Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Obliger or Questioner?

Right now I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, a book about using habits to improve one's life.  Roan suggested it, and I was intrigued because I am fascinated by habits.  (I should have been tipped off to my tendency when I immediately started to question the validity of the framework.) 

I took Rubin's online quiz to see which of the four tendencies matches me (questioner, obliger, upholder, or rebel).  I got "obliger"--someone who struggles to meet inner and external expectations, and who needs external accountability.  I took it again and got the same thing.  But I wasn't so sure. It's true that I happily help others and sometimes struggle to maintain certain habits, but as I thought about it, I realized that there are many habits I keep without a problem.  To try to get more clarification, I listened to Rubin's podcasts on questioners and obligers to get more details on each tendency, and--I'm a questioner!

 Although I do have some obliger traits, especially superficially (I struggle to get to bed early, and I struggle to maintain a really consistent, set schedule for my day or my cleaning routine, etc.), I realized that I'm brutally consistent with the things that I value. In order for me to meet an expectation, it must be an inner expectation.  If something doesn't make sense to me, I reject it. 


*I have no trouble keeping certain habits...even if no one knows I keep them. (This was one thing that made me really question whether I'm an obliger or not.) I keep my kitchen clean, make my bed every day, keep closets organized (even when I am the only person who really ever sees them!!), etc.  Another thing I remembered was that when I was a freshman in college, my sister was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  She had to give up all sugar. So even though I was four hours away, and at college, and no one would ever know what I ate, I gave up all sugar as well.  (Tough for me because I'm a sweets person!) I never cheated.  It wasn't hard because I'd decided that being in solidarity with my sister, even at a distance, was more important than eating sour patch kids.  

*If I don't think something is worthwhile, I don't do it.  Finn still hasn't memorized his multiplication tables, although on his standardized tests he scores in middle school on "math concepts" (he was in third grade when he scored that high!).  He hates memorizing math facts.  Although it would make his computation faster, I don't see the point in forcing the issue because what really matters to me is his conceptual understanding. If he can figure it out, that matters more to me than instant recall.  If he enjoyed memorizing math facts, we'd do it!

*I resist expectations that don't seem to meet an end goal that I value.  But if an expectation meets an end goal that is valuable to me, I have no trouble meeting it. 

*Homeschooling.  I am completely incapable of following a set curriculum (as I learned last year, --definitely not an Upholder) because I question the curriculum.  (Why are they teaching this at this age? Why do they take this approach to spelling? I'm sorry, but this method of teaching grammar is  nonsensical!!  Etc.)  Instead, I feel best when I settle on a solid educational philosophy and make choices based on that.  

*I quit my full-time job as an associate at a large firm after less than a year, which was almost scandalous in the workaholic atmosphere of a law firm (and I didn't have a job lined up, either--I gave two weeks notice without any idea what I would do next...I was married and had no law school debt, so that helped a lot).  The external expectation is that an associate begins work, works many hours a week, and eventually makes partner.  I soon discovered that I found that slavishly plugging billable hours just to meet a billable hour quota did not square with the life I had envisioned myself leading. There was the added issue of an internal restructuring which had split me between the really good work (meaty, intellectually stimulating, heavy on analysis and writing--the work I was clearly meant to do, as the partner who headed that department knew when he recruited me to be his associate after only working with me on one discrete project the summer before my third year of law school) and workers' compensation (statutory, boring, rote, mind-numbing).  So I handed in my resignation. (Interestingly, they then countered with an offer for part-time work, and I countered with an offer for contract work, and we had a deal.  I worked from home as an independent contractor for two more years until Finn was born.)  In other words: the external obligation was enormous, but because it didn't match my internal values, I had no problem leaving it behind.  

*I'm NOT a procrastinator.  In college and law school I "procrastinated" in that I wouldn't get things done weeks in advance, but I also never worked to the very last-minute deadline, either. I liked to get things done a day or two ahead, if possible. And in my own personal life, I hate procrastination. (My husband is  a major procrastinator so we balance each other out!)  For instance, for our homeschool co-op family gathering this weekend I have to take five scripts with highlighted parts, and several props.  I've already printed out the scripts and highlighted them, and will gather the props today.  No one knows whether I'm doing this now or Saturday afternoon right before the event.  That doesn't matter; I like my life when I don't procrastinate, so I don't procrastinate!  (I have already begun wrapping Christmas gifts and my Christmas cards are addressed and stamped....it's not even December 1st. See?)

*I deliberate over all my decisions.  I deliberate over purchases, choices, etc.  I like to research. And once I make the decision I almost never look back or second guess myself.  

*I struggle with habits that seem arbitrary. When I realized this was not a negative thing, that it's just my questioner tendency, it was a watershed moment.  For instance, I love a clean house, but I refuse to follow a cleaning schedule.  I like to create them, and figure out what would work best, but I struggle to implement a cleaning schedule because it does seem arbitrary to me.  I want my work to make sense.  Earlier this fall I created a rotating chores system and it makes lots of sense to me--and I skip a chore if it clearly doesn't need to be done. (Maybe I'll post about that sometime.) I think one thing I have been thinking is that I'm an obliger because I do struggle with things like a "cleaning routine" or a very specific, set exercise schedule.  But the reason is--I don't actually see the value or benefit of those things.  Instead I like to clean what I know needs to be cleaned, and to exercise based on how I feel (if I don't feel like jogging but really want to do Pilates, I do Pilates).  It's not that I struggle with habits; in fact, I am good at keeping habits.  It's just that many habits that are valued in our society are habits that I find arbitrary.

*I eat the same thing for breakfast each day, and rotate between two lunches.  No one knows what I'm eating (other than my children). But because I have found meals that I like and consider very healthy, I have no problem with the habit of eating the same things over and over again.  

*I'm a devoted list-maker and I work through my to-do list daily, but I have NO problem chucking something off the list or switching it to another day if it doesn't feel like it fits in with my goals for the day or the mood of the day. I know I will get it done eventually.  But I also do make the list and pay attention to the list.  

*Efficiency matters to me.  I refuse to own a fridge that has two doors, for instance.  Because I don't want to spend my life opening one door only to find that I need to open the other door.  Hairsplitting?  My husband sometimes thinks so.  But why would I build inefficiency into my life?  Another point is that for many, many years I have planned my errands based on right-hand turns. You spend less time sitting at stop lights and battling traffic if you're basically making right turns.  I have had people tell me that I'm crazy for this, but I do it because it makes perfect sense, and it's efficient. (Yes, I will make a left-hand turn if it's necessary!  I just prefer to avoid them.) So I create my own habits based on the efficiency that I value. 

I questioned Rubin's framework, but now I'm quite intrigued with it.  And looking forward to reading more in the book, especially now that I've finally nailed down my tendency and can "own it," so to speak!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


After a few hours of cooking I was ready to hit the trail. 

My husband had done 13 miles on the trails this morning, but I opted for walking for an hour.  Less impressive, but very relaxing.

Then there was target practice at my in-laws' house. 

Finn says his parents play with his BB gun more than he does.  Guilty as charged! I love it. 

And then it was time for Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, and laughing around the fire (my sister-in-law and her husband and children are hilarious), and pie.  And now my family is in bed, my sister made it safely back to her apartment, and I can knit and go to bed. 

Another Thanksgiving in the books. I'm grateful for every one of them!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday: Making Things

Today was a day for making things, after we did school (it's so interesting when the accidental intersections happen: our literature book this year is Pilgrim's Progress, we are reading about the first Thanksgiving this week, *and* today in history we read about the Crusades, and the pilgrims who made the journey to Jerusalem!). 

*one batch of experimental laundry soap
*one batch of homemade deodorant
*one pot of rosemary-white bean soup
*a batch of biscuits
*pie crust (for spinach-mozzarella quiche tonight, and apple pie on Thanksgiving!)
*batch of gingerbread

I also hung laundry out on the line, this time in very cold weather.  A hat, a wool coat, a scarf, and gloves are necessary, but the wind and sun do the trick.  Line-drying clothes makes me so happy.

And finally, I deep-cleaned our bedroom and bathroom, which culminated with scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees (the only way, in my opinion, to get a floor really clean).  Those rooms are clean! now.  

I'm ready for a hot bath and my flannel nightgown!!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pizza on the Cheap

I make a nice inexpensive cheese pizza.  We've started giving Finn some gluten these days (!!!) and my children loved the most recent incarnation of pizza.

I buy my cheese in bulk for $2.99/lb. 

The tomato paste was about .30/can at Aldi. The pizza sauce recipe was easy and tasty! It does use a fair amount of olive oil, but I buy mine on deep sale, so it's pretty inexpensive.

This is my favorite gluten-filled pizza crust recipe.  

I'm not going to try to break down the ingredients and determine how much the pizza costs to make (maybe one day I will--no promises).  But I'd guess that it costs about $3 for two large cheese pizzas.  The dough can be mixed up the night before or in the morning.  The sauce just sits around and cooks.  I shred my cheese and freeze it so it's ready to go.....so it's a very easy meal.  

I do like to add spinach to assuage my guilt at feeding my children cheese and bread for supper, or sometimes I'll steam broccoli as a side dish.  And there's always a lot leftover for their lunches for a few days!

And now I have a vegan pizza on the cheap, too! My husband has started making his own hummus in large quantities--definitely cheap.  I press out the pizza crust, spread on a layer of hummus, spread on a layer of pizza sauce, then put the toppings on (I like to roast veggies, slice tomatoes, etc., which is not very cheap during the off-season, but is free during the gardening season!).  My husband LOVES the pizza made with hummus instead of cheese.  

Much healthier and thriftier than Domino's!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Darkness Isn't Dark

I wrote this over six years ago,...when Finn was two, and before Annie was born!

I've thought a lot about childrearing over the past two years, and lately I've thought mostly about perspectives.  How we see our children, and how we perceive their personalities, gifts, and weaknesses.  The times I have been most grateful as a parent, sort of emotionally prostrate before God with thanks, have often been the times when I have been face-to-face with my son's special challenges.

It seems that the way we see our children makes an enormous difference in how we treat them and in how they develop.  Are they a blessing?  Do we harp on their cannots, without embracing their cans? Do we try to fit square pegs into round holes? Do we care too much about what other people--even total strangers--think about our children?  Do we expect the right things?  At the right times?  Are we concerned with building relationships, not just getting behavioral results? Do we see a disability, or just a difference? Do we allow our paradigms to be shifted?

God was good to us.  He gave us a child who is unusual in certain respects. He gave us a child who may see the world differently than we do.  Who has some unique challenges, but also might have some interesting gifts.  We want to be sure he can function well as he ages, but that he never loses that him-ness. A few months ago we had to sit down and think hard about the fact that Finn is probably not a typical child.  And that's where the shift comes in--the shift that asks, what's typical? what's normal? what do those things truly mean?  could this be a good thing--even a great thing?

Rather than seeing all of this as something to be defeated, or worse, something to be mourned, it evolved into something else for me.  Opportunity.  A new way of seeing things.  For me, it has included unspeakable joy.

I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.

You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence. This is too much, too wonderful--I can't take it all in!

Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! 
At night I'm immersed in the light!" 

It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

--From Psalm 139, in The Message

When I wrote those words I had no idea what the future held.  We had mixed messages from various professionals on Finn's potential and future. Through it all I never wavered; I knew Finn was special.

Nearly seven years later he is unfolding each day in to the person he was created to be, and it's my particular joy to witness this.  Finn has a gift for art; he spends a lot of time drawing or sketching.  He plays piano frequently (and well).  He has an amazing knack for voices and for understanding how to design things.  He loves theatrical sets and set design.  He reads Shakespeare. He reads everything.  He is hilarious and witty and so very sweet. He has a soft spot for me.  He struggles with basic math facts, but can understand complex mathematical concepts.  His sense of humor is sharp. 

If you have a child who is atypical, I encourage you to look at them through the lens of possibility and not limitation.  Their diagnosed "weakness" may be their greatest strengths.  Look for what they love and do the most and encourage them.  Nothing is too large for God, who has even said that His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  He created our children; we just have the privilege of coming alongside of Him to facilitate and witness.  

(A noble lion Finn drew this summer. Of course we named him Aslan.) 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Laundry Day

Our dryer is broken.  (When your sheets come out of the dryer smelling like smoke, that's a bad sign.)  Yesterday I took a retractable clothesline that my husband gave me a couple of years ago, found his drill, found screws that fit the drill, figured out how the drill worked, and installed that clothesline!   One end on the tree; one end on the post.  I have the prettiest view and love going outside to hang, check, and collect the laundry. 

I love the smell of laundry dried outside.  

The dryer can stay broken for all I care!  Although my husband reminded me that we do get a lot of cold and ice and snow and stuff. He's right; but for now I told him not to stress about fixing the dryer, because I love my new clothesline!  

Friday, November 4, 2016

An Adequate Conception of Children

"Our crying need today is less for a better method of education than for an adequate conception of children......Our business is to find out how great a mystery a person is qua person.  All action comes out of the ideas we hold and if we ponder duly upon personality we shall come to perceive that we cannot commit a great offence than to maim or crush, or subvert any part of a person." 

--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (Vol. 6 of her series; p. 80)

This applies to much more than education, I think; it applies to our approach to parenting.  How many parenting books are on the shelves?  A good parenting book can be so useful, but I do think an "adequate conception of children" must undergird any approach or method.  This pithy quote gives a simple framework for evaluating our methods, and gives rise to several self-assessment questions. 

Do we have an adequate conception of children?

Do we make it our business to explore the mystery of a child's personhood?

Do we ponder personality? 

Do we undertake parenting or educational methods that may seem effective, but that actually maim, crush, or subvert a child's personality? 

This morning I just happened to open up to Psalm 139 and I read this to my children at breakfast--the Psalm on how God created us uniquely and knows us intimately.  Only later did I smile at the tie-in to my reading earlier in the week.   "Search me, God, and know my heart."  (Psalm 139:23a) 

 I am inspired to spend extra time today searching my own children's hearts and pondering their personalities!