Tuesday, April 23, 2013

At Table

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that one of my major life struggles is balancing busy-ness (which usually manifests from my enthusiasm, on the one hand, or my need to feel valued, on the other) and down-time, which I need in decent quantities in order to feel human.  This has been a busy-busy semester, with lots of deadlines and talks and travels, plus all the doings of everyday life:  volleyball and soccer practices for the girls, doctor appointments and acupuncture appointments (for Nolie) and therapy appointments (for me and E.), and a beautiful, vivid social life for all of us.

Some things have had to give.  We continue to have someone come in and clean the house every two weeks, which has been a lifesaver.  I've been late on a few deadlines.  I got a pus-pocket in my throat and was too busy to notice.  I had a breakdown over getting tenure, this thing I've been working toward for six years, probably because I didn't take enough time to consider whether it was something I really wanted (it is).

But here's something that has been helpful.  I've been doing a lot of reading about minimalism.  These books are about minimalism, directly or indirectly:

Simplify:  a short, $3 kindle jobber which walks you through minimalizing your living space.  This book helped me to realize that I'd been holding on to a lot of "stuff" with the idea that I would use it "someday" or because it meant something to someone in my family (though not necessarily to me) or because it would feel wasteful to let it go.  But clarifying our living spaces has made cleaning and tidying up much easier, has made us appreciate the things we truly enjoy using and looking at, and has cleared up psychic space as well.  This process is ongoing but we've made a lot of progress.

Added bonus:  I'm more reluctant to bring crap into the house, which would undo all of the clarifying work.

Minimalist Parenting:  We already do a lot of the stuff in this book, including keeping the kids' extracurriculars at a minimum.  Though we mostly have made that choice as a matter of survival, it has also been because all of us need down-time to recharge, and this book was a nice confirmation that it's more than okay to exit the "gifted" parenting rat race.  This is a great book, especially, for new parents, I think.

And, my favorite:

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:  Written by a Benedectine nun, it's not a self-help book about minimalism, but rather a sort of manifesto about how to live a more centered, meaningful, and faith-filled life.  Minimalism comes out of those commitments.  It's also an awesome example of a woman writer using her voice to call out what is crazy in our culture, but which somehow passes for normal, which is my new goal as a tenured professor and human being.  She's a badass.

This passage from the last book here strikes me:

Indeed, if there is any indicator at all of the lack of spirituality in American culture it may well be the demise of the family meal and the common table, where privacy has superseded community and personal agendas have come to overshadow the common good.  In the meantime, we eat in cars and on stools and in front of cheap TV shows, day after day after day and wonder why we're lonely and why no one cares and why the gospel seems so remote.  We open cans instead of peel the tomatoes or clean the corn it would take to make a meal; we eat on the run instead of at a table; we eat alone instead of with someone else and we wonder where the wonders of life have gone.  Monastic spirituality says that the wonders of life are all around us and what we must do is to invite people in and learn to revere them.

See?  Badass.

Of course, when you're busy-busy, it can be easier to order the pizza and let the kids watch cartoons so that you can have a real conversation with your husband, whom you haven't seen in three days.  That happens.

But we make a real effort, most nights, to sit down and have a real family meal.  It's ugly, in a lot of ways.  Addie still eats like a neanderthal, and a lot of food ends up in her hair.  She can eat three plates of pasta in six minutes.

Nolie's blood sugar goes nuts half way through the meal and she usually careens off the barstool while lustily singing show tunes.

I roll my eyes.  A lot.  And lose my patience about the bad manners and yelling and singing.  E. tries to calm me down, and probably fantasizes about there being roasted meat bits somewhere, which he might be served and get to eat, by some other wife.  But we're there at the table, together, and the food is usually homemade, at least most of it, and we are able to talk to each other a bit before the inanity sets in.

Here's our newest innovation, which you'll also see in Minimalist Parenting, and which has been a godsend:

Apparently, Indiana Jones is invited to dinner.

It's theme night!  It was Addie's idea.  Mondays are soup and sandwiches night, Tuesday is pasta night, Wednesday is make-your-own pizza, and so on.  Every Sunday, I go through our cookbooks and pick out recipes for each theme, do the shopping, and then know what to cook for that night.  Shopping:  easier.  Cooking:  easier.  Fights over what's for dinner and excessive eating out/ordering in:  improved.  And I still get to try new foods and recipes, which is important to me.

If you have suggestions on the manners front, please do leave comments.

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