Sunday, February 19, 2017

(February Fast) - Tested

I have managed to survive Mama and Family Days without television as a crutch - even with an unexpected "snow" day thrown in there. But today I'm being tested as my own creature of habit.

I was slated to work 11 out of 13 days in a row. But alas, I got called off on Wednesday (thank you!) and Pacific U didn't need my help after all on Saturday. Instead, I made a last-minute dentist appointment, of course have a cavity that needs filling, and a wide open day. The wide open day is highly welcomed, of course, but also is a bit threatening to my commitment to this whole fast thing.

Then again, it's not like I've been an entirely faithful follower. In the last week, I have 'broken the rules' a number of times, with regard to the Internet, or sneaky little variations of the Internet. For example, I just purchased tickets online  for the three of us to go to a Beauty and the Beast play. Yesterday evening, not at home but not at work either, I used the Internet to research "science writing," and perused job postings on (even considering applying for some blogger-type job posting that is probably more a scam than actual work).

But the temptation today is lying with Ugg boots. That's right, the flip-flop of sheepskin boots is tempting me like the serpent in Eden.

My text exchange with Alex (aka my 'sponsor') went a little something like this:

Me: "I'm having urges."

Me: "I'm in an addiction flare."

Me: "I want to use my $100 gift card and shop online for new Ugg boots!"

Him: "Don't do it! Stay strong. It'll still be there next month."

Me: "I haven't given in to the temptation yet. But I'm only just now at my computer. Remind me WHY I shouldn't do it? My brain is saying, 'it's just one website. it's deliberate. you have a gift card so it won't even cost money. you're just looking.'

Him: "Same thoughts I have about herb. Only reason not to is because you said you wouldn't. To prove your mastery over your behavior. To feel what it's like and how easy/hard it is to push through habitual/addictive distractions. You'll never know, if you give in."

Me: "Fair argument. I'm asking myself, 'but how do you ACTUALLY want to spend your time? do you want to be someone who finally has some free time and spends it shopping online? do you even like shopping? what about writing? that's what you always say you want time for. do you want to be someone who consumes? or someone who maintains, uses, or otherwise enjoys the things you already own? all those things you say you want - free time to think and just be, to write, to exercise, to stretch and to meditate, to read leisurely and drink yummy coffee - now is when you actually can do those kinds of things. don't fill you time, and your life, with addictive, compulsive, consumer bullshit out of bad habits.'

Him: "I like it!"

Needless to say, I didn't buy any new Uggs, let alone even visit the website. I did get a few work-related tasks done. And I did get to spend several hours catching up with some friends. But I also got stuck in traffic, and had to manage the anxiety associated with the guilt of "wasting" my solo day at home by not even being at home at all. That said, I did indeed spend my unexpected free day involved in the kinds of things that minimalism values, and I suppose I'll call that the victory it is.

Random Thoughts on V-Day 2017

Never one for "Hallmark holidays," it's ironic that I find myself documenting some anecdotes from my Valentine's Day. Then again, any holiday with a I'm-not-four-and-a-half-I'm-almost-five-years-old child is infinitely more exciting and fun than it possibly could be as a singleton or even just a loving wife.  

To celebrate the holiday at school, I helped the Bean put together superhero Valentine's (leftover from last year), and we made red and pink homemade play dough to give to each of her 8 classmates. She wrote each of her friends' names on the cards, and signed them all "FLC."  

At one of the memory care facilities where I supervise graduate students, the activities director (AD) shared with us the Valentine's the residents had painted for loved ones. The AD then included direct quotes from the residents. One woman, a 60-something with Huntington's, said to her husband: "Dear Big Spoon ... See you 'round like a donut." Another resident, a 70-something man with Parkinson's and dementia with Lewy bodies had the AD write, "Please bring home some French fries." I made a mental note to share these cute messages with Alex, and the Bean now thinks these are just the silliest things to say to us. Which I have to admit, is adorable.  

Given that V-Day fell on a Tuesday this year we celebrated with a Beebee-cooked dinner, and homemade dessert of strawberry shortcake. We each went around during dessert to share our thoughts our feelings, to just to say something about Valentine's Day or love. Apparently our preschooler is a poet, as she dramatically declared: "We love love. Our hearts could be true."  

And even though it is supposed to be a day of love and kindness, I find myself fostering feelings of a different kind - for some of the five-year-old boys in the Bean's PreK class. She has now made at least a dozen comments over the last couple months about how he (we'll call him O) doesn't "let" her play with him and another classmate. About how she played Trouble with O, not by the real rules, but according to O's rules. She randomly mentioned that she doesn't think O will come to her birthday party, that it will make her feel sad, but that she's still going to invite him anyway. One morning when I dropped her off after her dentist appointment, he inquired about why she was arriving later than usual. I told him about her dental visit, including her cavity-free report card for keeping the sugar bugs away, and he replied: "Her teeth don't even look shiny." But that's not even the worst of it - the very most awful part is his speech patterns, the ones that our girl has picked up and uses way too often. It's something approximating baby talk, but with this weird intonation pattern and with some difficult to describe facial expressions. It drives me BANANAS, and I find myself constantly reminding her at home to "use your Big Girl voice" or to "talk like a 5 year old." Needless to say, I find myself more often than not talking shit about O to my husband, which I didn't anticipate happening until maybe the preteen years?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

(February Fast) - One Week

I have come to several conclusions, drawn many theories, and have learned a lesson or two in the few short days since initiating this tech-diet, but I will share only a few observations on here today.

1) NO extra time has magically appeared, like I expected it would. Time to re-engage in some of my favorite old-lady pastimes like cross-stitch and embroidery, time to write, time to work on long-neglected chores, time to organize the thousands of digital photos and files. Like, how on earth did I ever find time to watch Newsroom, or scroll through Instagram, or become enraged scanning reader comments on NYT articles, or gorge myself on socially liberal Evangelical Christian blog posts?!?

Sure, I have probably spent a bit more time each night reading before bed. I did take the time to create a fun (read: nerdy) birthday present for my mother-in-law. And Alex and I have found ourselves with more opportunities to "chat" (which is sometimes just code for discussion-turned-argument). And I am proud to say I have already finished one book so far this month, The Girls. And I have been listening to more podcasts (I was already tuning in during my commute, but am now also doing sometimes while exercising).

2) While this experiment has not been a re-discovery of lost time, it HAS been a wonderful lesson in being mindful and enjoying the day-to-day. I have never, ever been so present with my daughter for such a lengthy and consistent period of time. I have also never read so many children's books in every room of the house, nor played so many board games so many times in a row. Interestingly, and I'm afraid I'll jinx it by writing it here, Francine seems to have gotten somewhat more comfortable with independent play. I don't know whether it is (A) a product of her feeling sated by her parents' undivided attention, or (B) that our undivided attention allows us to notice that she was actually playing alone more often than we gave her credit for.

Don't get me wrong - our Only Child Extraordinaire is wholly reliant on us to play Lost Puppies, and now Trouble and Catan Junior, or to watch her do yet another "silly dance," or insists on speaking ONLY when we are finally, just finally, getting in to a conversation over dinner about our days. But she hasn't asked for TV even once. And we have engaged in some great pastimes. We discovered the Beaverton City Library. We are taking full advantage of the "game library" at our fabulous Multnomah Village toy store, Thinker Toys. We are utilizing books on CD as we previously did Netflix/Hulu, to entertain Francine when we either don't want to or aren't able to pay full attention to her. We borrowed 20-something audiobooks from the Mecca (Beaverton City Library), and I even included those terrible Disney/Princess stories, for "special" occasions like when Mama needs to do some work on a Friday when daycare was closed due to freezing rain; yup, you read that right, I EVEN survived an unexpected school closure/Snow Day without breaking any of our fasting rules. We are frequenting our neighborhood coffee shop, Maplewood Coffee and Tea, and learning some really valuable lessons from The Game of Life - about how the person who retires with the most money wins, that the players who produce the most offspring get paid in retirement for their reproductive successes, and that you can get fired from your job for bringing your cat to work. I have been better at incorporating Francine in my chores and home-related tasks, rather than wishing she could entertain herself so I can just get through making dinner/folding laundry/vacuuming/packing lunch/sending a text. We are more present. We are more attentive. We are more patient. We aren't in a hurry at bedtime "so that we have time to relax and watch a show before bed." These parents seem more present. The daughter seems more satisfied. There is notably fewer conflicts. Everyone seems some version of happier.

3) My original instinct in writing down my reflection thus far was to note the many ways I have "broken the rules." But speaking of mindfulness, I have chosen to focus, instead, on my current behaviors while leaving the judgment on the sidelines. But I did want to record some generalities about iPhone use, spending, etc.

iPhone Usage:
I certainly am still using my phone on a regular basis - to schedule appointments or check my calendar, read/send text messages, check email, address a package, lookup up directions, listen to Pandora, do a guided meditation - but there is a total absence of staring at my phone. I would guess both my eyes and my brain are relishing the break from the small and visually over-stimulating screen.

Internet/Computer Usage:
There have been several occasions where I would typically whip out my phone to quickly procure a piece of information. That is the habit I have become most aware of. And it has also been the habit that has been far easier to break than I would have anticipated. For example, a neighbor this weekend mentioned going to an Elephant and Piggie event at the Beaverton Library. Typically, I would pull out my phone, enter some key words into Google, and the location, time, and cost of the event would magically appear. Instead, I used the Maps application to lookup the Beaverton City Library, and called - I actually called - the front desk to inquire about the Mo Willems play. I wasn't able to purchase tickets over the phone (and was actually directed to the website), and decided that Francie and I would just wing it - we arrived at the library early, had to put our name on the waitlist for the sold out show, explored the children's section, did not get admitted to the play, and very much enjoyed not having a set plan. I would also argue it was a good lesson for modeling "going with the flow." I typically rely pretty heavily on the PDX Kids Calendar for ideas for outings with the Bean; prior to this month I made a list of all the recurring events on Wednesdays (Mama Days), with the pertinent information. And on the weekends, I have been more deliberate about looking in the newspapers and free local parenting magazines for ideas. And also just using my own damn brain to come up with ideas for activities. I have come to think of our instant access to information as akin to public masturbation, but that's a story for another time.

Other changes have included writing the titles of books or names of songs down in my notebook, rather than inputting into Amazon or using Shazam to name and track a song that I like.

I have checked both the Oregonian and New York Times news apps a few times (which we said was okay), but have felt kind of, I don't know, cheap? when consuming information on my phone screen, so haven't lasted long. My dad recently started getting a paper version of the NYT, which he has brought to our house. And I started listening to a new 20-minute daily podcast from NYT so that I'm not totally in the dark about our current affairs.

As for the exceptions, or the ways in which I have "broken the rules," - I have obviously been accessing and using both my personal and work email accounts. I have not been following and reading links to websites that I am sent via email. I have accessed several web-based programs for work-related things. I did Google "Portland areas school closures" on that Friday morning there was freezing rain, in order to learn about whether or not my daughter's school was open, and to make a decision about whether or not my students and I would be meeting at our site. I did a brief Internet search for the local yoga studios along my commute from Hillsboro/Beaverton, and did go to each of those three studio websites to print their schedules. And I spent several hours using the Shutterfly website to make a present for my mother-in-law's birthday.

Francie and I have made a habit of starting our day with TV on Wednesdays, something like the Today Show, which I justify as "helping me wake up." I also am prone to put on a show while we eat lunch together on Mama Days or the weekend. As for the mornings, I have forced myself to get dressed as soon as I get out of bed, and we have been venturing to the coffee shop for a nice morning treat. For lunch, we have simply been eating at the table instead, and I often find myself thumbing through the paper or a magazine I haven't yet read, while also chit-chatting with Francie and helping her "do" a Sudoku or crossword puzzle alongside me.

Notably - last Wednesday morning she woke up to eat breakfast with Alex at 6 a.m., and let me sleep until 8 a.m.!!! That's never happened before; that means she literally played alone, and quietly, from 6:30 until 8 a.m., when "the clock was out of the purple," to wake me. And yesterday, although we slept in, I actually woke before her (which rarely happens), and we read in bed together. As in, I read (and finished) my book, and she gathered several of her own books to read by herself next to me. Also a first. Typically at our house "reading together" means we are reading aloud to her.

But also, we did turn on the Super Bowl this weekend, which we had pre-arranged. Although originally I thought we'd be watching the game in a more social context, the weather was shitty and we weren't up for leaving the house, so we conceded to watching part of the game with our own very intermittent and frustrating television reception.

We have meal-planned and grocery shopped weekly. Both Alex and I got $200 each of wallet money for the month. I have spent money on coffee dates with Francie, coffee for myself (but only if I stay at the café to take a lunch break or to do computer work, not buying coffee "to go"), lunch out and play area access at Pied Piper Play Café. I did buy a "material good," because I went last week to Powell's to hear Ayelet Waldman speak on her new book, and had planned ahead of time that I would purchase a copy of the book for her to sign. The three of us ate dinner our this weekend, which we realized we hadn't done in months, and paid with our wallet money. Also, it is only fair to note, I did buy a few things ahead of time on Amazon, that have arrived this month. And I ordered a bunch of work pants from a couple weeks ago that have also arrived this month.

I gave myself some serious pats on the back for refusing a "final" Internet binge/purchase on the first of the month - remember how I stayed up late that last night in January frantically doing all the Internet things, a binge before our purge, but wasn't able to get everything done that I needed to? Welllllll, I left a few tabs open on my computer - Etsy, and several Pinterest/craft/sewing instructions to print. I filled my shopping cart last night with a few purchases from Etsy for Valentines Day - a holiday I have NEVER before purchased gifts for, with the intention to complete the purchase in the morning. I also tentatively planned to check FB/IG one last time, approximately 24 hours after posting about our social media departure, just in case there was something there I NEEDED to know. But when I sat down with my mac n cheese for a 4 p.m. late lunch to write some notes about my day, I decided that I was not, in fact going to make those Etsy purchases or check those accounts even one more time. I did, however, permit myself to open the tab with the phone/email/mailing address information for contacting my representatives, to copy and paste into a Word document.

And finally, here are some photos that show what the past week-plus look like on 54th Ave ...

Deep in a game of Catan Junior. To all my good friends - don't go buy this game. It has been named our default bday present for PreK and early grade schoolers.

Beaverton City Library discovery - we didn't get to see the Elephant and Piggie show, but we DID fall in love with the children's section at this giant community resource.

Francie even got her first library card! Proud mama moment.

We read this wonderful poem in one of the new audiobooks (Hip Hop Speaks to Children, by Nikki Giovanni) that we checked out, and decided there was a great line for our letterboard this month.

People Equal, By James Berry

Some people shoot up tall.
Some hardly leave the ground at all.
Yet - people equal. Equal.

One voice is a sweet mango.
Another is a nonsugar tomato.
Yet - people equal. Equal.

Some people rush to the front.
Other hand back, feeling they can't.
Yet - people equal. Equal.

Hammer some people, you meet a wall.
Blow hard on others, they fall.
Yet- people equal. Equal.

One person will aim at a star.
For another, a hilltop is too far.
Yet- people equal. Equal.

Some people get on with their show.
Others never get on the go.
Yet - people equal. Equal.

Listening to Eloise on CD.

Trouble and Maplewood hot cocoa with Beebee.

Books in bed with Mama!

Yes, she even meditates with me sometimes. I don't look this sweet doing it though.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

(February Fast) - The Eve of Our Month of Minimalism

Twas the night before fasting
and all through the house
this creature was stirring
like a maniacal mouse

I embodied the same anxious, busy, task-master energy that I also do when preparing to leave for a trip.

Wash the laundry. Fold and put away the laundry. Clean the bathrooms. Make the beds. Pack the suitcase. Pack the carry-on. Pack Francine's clothing. Re-pack the suitcase. Pack snacks. Make lists Re-pack the carry-on. Peruse the Internet. Respond to emails. Vacuum. Re-write my To-Do List. Upload all the photos from my iPhone. Alphabetize the spice rack. Re-pack the bags.

Many of the long-neglected things on my list, relegated to "not really that important," shot up and competed for tippy-top priority, consumed with fear of neglect with the threat of no Internet for the month. I organized and updated my Amazon shopping lists. I copied and pasted my J's Amazon Book List into a Word document, so that when I head to the library (rather than Powell's or Annie Bloom's, sadly) I can still access the 17-page list of books I've made note to check-out for myself or Francine. I reviewed my "favorited" Etsy items and filled my shopping cart with Valentine gifts for my loved ones (realizing only when the clock very nearly struck midnight that never before have I purchased anything to celebrate V-Day; that my frenetic shopping was simply a symptom of my consumer illness. Needless to say, I didn't end up completing those purchases, and my credit card/husband thanks me). I then realized that I would likely need to help Francine make (rather than buy at Target or Paper Source) Valentine's for her classmates; I quickly searched Pinterest for inspiration, and of course lots track of my goal and ended up saving or printing ideas images/instructions for a variety of "pinned" ideas that I might actually have the time/energy to complete this month. And yes, I even did some last minute shopping, including buying some "necessities" from my Amazon shopping lists, thinking ahead to any gifts/events/holidays to prepare for the month ahead. Then there was the social media farewell posting - something both Alex and I felt compelled to do, did, and then judged ourselves for being so self-important. We talked about how ridiculous it was that we were inclined to make a big to-do out of our leaving social media for the shortest month of the year. Like, "ahem, excuse me please, tap tap, is this thing on? Ahem, we won't be sniffing around here for the next 28 days, so you probably wouldn't have noticed, but now that we've drawn your attention to it, because it appears that we want to make sure you do notice, we beg of you to miss our cyber-presence; but also, we'll refer you to the myriad other ways we pimp ourselves out online like in this blog, for example; but also if you're our real friend, you can just call or text us." I mean, really, how egomaniacal can we all be?!?

But no, we didn't say it in exactly that way. And the truth is, the compulsion to tell both Facebook "friends" and Instagram "followers" about our break stems from a totally irrational fear of not being available than a need for any kind of attention or validation - like what if someone assumes we check our social media accounts regularly, was never informed about our departure, attempts to contact us, and then is insulted that we were rude or neglectful and did not respond?!? In fact, I could give only the tiniest of shits about so-called connection on social media, and I am mostly immune to the epidemic of FOMO, but I do nurture an unhealthy neuroses about being available - for example, I have very, very deliberately and at one point with great inconvenience retained the same phone number since I first got a cell phone in 2001. When we bought our house I sent change of address information to dozens of people that I probably hadn't connected with in a decade. I included "Hartman" in my gmail account and in my Facebook profile name, just in case someone who only knows me by my maiden name might want/need to contact me. As I type this, I recognize just how ridiculous I sound, as if I think I'm so important that some long lost somebody is just longing to reach out to me, and thank goodness I've provided them with some useful tools and strategies to find me!

I wouldn't say I'm "anxious" about taking a break from social media/Internet/TV, but I will say that there is a certain kind of energy that surrounds my desire to prepare for the month, so I'm not left desperately wishing I had printed that one t-shirt dress sewing tutorial rather than the other three I saved to a Word document.

To my IG "followers" I wrote the following, copied here just for posterity (like most things on this blog), and to remind my future self that I was ALWAYS this self important. Or maybe just precise and deliberate with my communication??

"Hi and bye! The Closemans are checking out of social media (and several other 'distractors' such as TV, shopping, intoxicants, maybe junk food, and the Internet) for the next month. We will still be readily available by email/phone. And if you think you'll miss our massive social media presence (read: cute pics of and quotes by Queen Francine), or you're just a voyeur curious about our "Month of Minimalism" or boring family BS, you can check out my blog (link in profile). "In the absence of said indulgences-turned-bad-habits, we should find ourselves with more time to carve out for the things we love, like writing/blogging, staring blankly into one another's eyes, and playing Peaceful Kingdom's cooperative board game, Lost Puppies, for the hundred zillionth time. So for the remaining 3.07 hours of January, I'm gonna go lay on the couch with a carton of Umpqua ice cream and binge-watch that OJ doc while scrolling IG and FB and Pinning crafts I'll never complete and shopping on Amazon and reading the news and getting all kinds of worked up about the current state of affairs. No but seriously. To all of that."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

(Just Pics & Just Video) - Portland Women's March 2017

She goes to one rally and now she's all:

 I mean, you can't even make this shit up. Sure, I gave her some guidance in what types of things she could say on her sign, in the context of some of what the march was about. Sure, I wrote the bubble letters on the sign. But those are her words. She decorated the sign herself. She carried that sign. That call-and-response chant is hers, one she and her daddy made up and sang while they walked around/waited at the march. And those dance moves? One.Hundred.Percent.ALL.HERS.

As written in my last post, I did not actually participate in the Women's March. However, my outspoken husband and spitfire daughter did, along with my own dad, and I am now the proud owner of several powerful and adorable photos of their experience. I did help make the signs the night before, and I was wearing my own Wild Feminist matching sweatshirt to work at RIO that day.

This photo is from the inaugural day protests at Pioneer Square that Alex attended.

Also from Friday's protest, which I imagine was much more about "dissent" than "unity.

I drafted a few posters - the materials on hand, even! - for Francie to choose from and decorate.

Friday evening family time - poster decoration.

"I'm the boss of my body" is something Francine has long said, which is rooted more in the idea of her body is hers alone, and that others, including her parents, need permission to touch her body. But it is also something we talk about when it comes to her learning to read and interpret the signals from her own body, whether tiredness, hunger, etc., in that she knows her own body better than anyone else can assume to, and because she's the boss of her body, she's also in charge of taking good care of it.

Alex wrote me a sweet note that I woke up to before heading  bright and early to RIO.

The final product posters.

Rockin' the Wild Feminist sweatshirt at work.

It's probably not very feminist of me to draw extra attention to my crow's feet here, and the subsequent self-loathing, is it?

Meanwhile back home, more Wild Feminists abound ...

Apparently it was very wet and cold and over-stimulating, as I can only imagine, but our Bean was a total superstar trooper. Turns out her rainboots had a hole in the bottom, which is why she was so darned cold, and Beebee was nothing less than a superhero who lent her his socks and gave the very fleece jacket off his back.

And meanwhile, in Tahoe (Kings Beach), Francie was also marching "with" her other socially liberal, active, and very supportive grandparents, and even great-grandmother (who has a long history of participation in activism).

Grandma Lambie, Papa, Mimi, and Kara.

Marchin' Mimi.

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