Sunday, January 14, 2018

Technology and the Lost Art of Listening

This morning at church Father Dave made an astute observation. The technology of texting and online social media has made communication fast and easy; but it has almost completely destroyed the art of listening. I sat in my pew amazed, because just yesterday I had a very nasty experience on Facebook. And only a few days before that, my daughter had her heart broken by a "friend" who betrayed her on a social media site called Hangouts. 

My daughter's tablet is taking a long vacation. And it's not just to avoid the problem of mean girls. I've seen that being on her tablet is addictive. Research has shown that internet activity stifles creativity and actually, physiologically rewires the brain, scattering our attention like nothing else and rendering us increasingly helpless against our impulses. This truth negates the belief that technology is morally neutral, that a person's heart is the problem, not the technology itself. Do we really have the control that we think we do over our use of the internet and devices like smartphones? As with any addiction, denial is rampant. 

Consider the observations of Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation:

   "We think our many technologies give us more control over our destinies. In fact, they have come to control us. And this opens the door to the more fundamental point about technology: it is an ideology that conditions how we humans understand reality. To use technology is to participate in a cultural liturgy that, if we aren't mindful, trains us to accept the core claim of modernity: that the only meaning there is in the world is what we choose to assign it in our endless quest to master nature...
   If we can use technology any way we like as long as the outcome results in our own happiness, then all reality is 'virtual reality,' open to construal in any way we like. There are no natural limits, only those that we do not yet have the technological capability to overcome. This point of view is ubiquitous in modernity but profoundly antithetical to orthodox Christianity." (emphasis mine)

Technology has become a worldview (the medium is the message) which trains us to privilege what is new and innovative over what is old, traditional, and familiar. Like listening. We've lost the ability to comprehend whether we should or should not accept a particular technological development. I've seen smartphones in the hands of babies. We need to wake up before it's too late! Society's addiction to television is bad enough, but when devices with internet access are appendages to our bodies, we have a serious problem. 

And what about me? I've given up Facebook before, largely due to cyber-bullying, and only set up a new account when my grandma died, and I wanted to keep in touch with fellow grieving family members. Now having my own mean girl experience, would it be letting evil win to throw in the Facebook towel again?

I think most of us are at least peripherally aware that our data is not kept private by Facebook (but we shove this knowledge into our denial folder). I was particularly perturbed yesterday because I was unable to remove unwanted, harrassing comments from a birthday fundraiser that I have set up on Facebook. And the "report a problem" option was not functioning! The offender could not be removed from the event. Facebook's guidelines on their page for reporting a problem were to do it at the initial site of the problem. I'm amazed that I didn't tear my hair out. 

There is also the issue of general dependency on the internet for financial reasons. My husband and I have a home-based business largely operated online, and Facebook is one of our avenues for generating income. FB has sometimes removed my husband's posts, and then they were negligent in communicating with him, leaving the issue unresolved. My husband also relies on Twitter to support our business. 

Is being a FB member not only often a monumental waste of my time and potentially damaging to my brain in a real, physiological sense, but is it also being complicit with a company which is negligent, does not guard my privacy--is, in other words, morally questionable? That is something I'm still discerning. 

I'm not saying that internet technology doesn't have many positive uses. For example, one reason I've stayed on Facebook is to respond to people's prayer requests. The internet is an enormous help to my homeschooling vocation (though, due to information overload, it's also a huge distraction and can result in much confusion.) The use of internet technology is not necessarily immoral in and of itself, but it very often presents what is called a near occasion of sin, which you can read more about here: Christians are obligated to avoid occasions of sin. The problem is, again, denial. Do we have the humility and self-awareness to admit that we are deeply addicted to smartphones, social media, and internet surfing? 

I now know the ugliness of a cousin's heart who I thought was very sweet, thanks to her posts in my charity fundraiser. I would rather not have known. Social media has an undeniable tendency to bring out the worst impulses in people and is notorious for the ruination of relationships. As science has confirmed, technology is not neutral. 

There is much more to be said on this topic, but for now I'll conclude with a few suggestions. 

1.  Just today I downloaded Chrome to my laptop and added their Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator feature. I now receive inspirational quotes instead of a newsfeed! This frees you up from distractions which impede your work productivity and concentration on managing your groups. I'm sure Facebook is mad as h*ll about this, because you don't see their advertisements anymore. You can also find many good suggestions for controlling your smartphone use online, which I can't personally advise you on, because I have a flip phone! Consider replacing your smartphone with a flip phone. I dare you. Double dog. Bet you can't do it, you addict, you. 

2.  Very few people have my cell phone number, and the message box is not set up. I do not text. Consider actually dialing up a number and talking on the phone. (Consider, even, having a landline with a cord! Bet you can't sit still for 5 minutes.) I can think of no circumstance in which texting would be necessary. And when you are on the phone, do not multi-task. First of all, multi-tasking is an illusion. The scientific reality is that we can't give adequate attention to more than one activity at a time which requires concentration. Don't surf the internet or watch TV while on the phone with a friend. Do not put people on speaker phone so you can do something else at the same time. I can always tell I'm on speaker phone. Turn off your phone when you are visiting in person. This is all a matter of basic manners, but we need to be reminded, because we are no longer a polite society.

3.  Our children, including teenagers, should not have smartphones, period. Get your kid a flip phone. Babies should not have smartphones in their hands. These, I believe, are unquestionably moral considerations. 

4.  Recover the art of listening. You can't listen when texting. You can't listen when using social media. This means you can't have deep relationships with people. Think about it. Do you usually send a text or FB message because you really don't want to bother calling someone, because it's more more convenient for you? Even if it's your mom, daughter, best friend, or sibling? The truth is, many of us don't really want to talk to people unless we have to. I am arguing here that we have to. If you aren't in the habit of listening, you lose the ability, and you aren't really in intimate relationship with other people. We are literally losing our humanity.

5.  Set a timer when you get on the internet and give yourself strict limits. Avoid falling into the black hole where you lose all sense of time--and with it, reality. Social media is not real life. It's a place where people create fantasy selves. Rarely do people present a realistic portrait of their lives. 

6.  So many people document their status on social media all day long. And what's worse, their children have no choice but to have their lives plastered all over social media too. This is dangerous. And it is a serious violation of your child's privacy. I actually got a bunch of flack when my teenage daughter did not want me to post her picture on FB, and I respected her wishes. People, you're just not getting it. Limit your children's pictures, your own posts, and the time you spend on social media, your smartphone, and the internet. Let's get back to Life.

Compare this picture to the one at the beginning and seriously contemplate--which do you want to be the picture of your life?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winter Deep Clean 2018

Happy New Year, everyone! I'd like to invite you to join me for a deep cleaning of our homes this winter. Typically you might think of spring as being the season for a thorough house cleaning, but I can't wait that long. Sure, some tasks, like washing windows and painting, will need to wait until warmer weather. But as it is so very cold right now, and you are not likely to be spending much time outdoors, why not clean the cabin and perhaps avoid cabin fever in the process? We'll be too busy purging and scrubbing to notice how cooped up we are, and we will be loving our homes again!

I spent Christmas and my birthday sick and in bed, so I had a lot of time to plan. I watched way too many youtube videos, but some of them did inspire me and helped me discern the tools I will need for this project. It seems that the minimalist challenge groups for this year are focusing on spending 15 minutes per day on a particular zone. A zone might be a room or set of rooms, or just part of a room. I decided to start with my upstairs bathroom. 

I gathered my supplies and set a timer for 15 minutes (see grimy vintage timer in pic at top!), planning to work on the medicine cabinet only. I figured it would take more than 15 minutes, but the idea is that once you get going, you build momentum. 

The first thing you want to do is throw away (or set aside to give away) whatever items need to go. I tossed expired medicines, products I wasn't using, and old nail polish. Unfortunately one of the bottles broke in the waste basket, creating a strong smell and making a mess. Dealing with this added extra time to the project, which leads me to the next point. Plan for your project to take longer than expected. 

Just the medicine cabinet took 55 minutes, and later I realized that I had forgotten to wash the outside of it, so it was really a full hour. I took everything out, discarded certain items, cleaned all the shelves and woodwork, and put the remaining things back inside, in an organized fashion. This is a built-in cabinet and has quite a bit of storage space. There is room to put some additional items in it, which may end up meaning that I need less storage space in other areas of the bathroom. 


Bring paper and a pen into the zone you are working on so you can take notes of anything you need to replace (like those expired medicines you threw away) and any additional supplies you may need to finish the job. I did the medicine cabinet on Jan. 1, then took my list to the store the next day. One thing I really needed was rubber gloves for cleaning. Yesterday's job, hanging a curtain on a new rod, cleaning the window frame, and cleaning the pedestal sink, also took longer than expected. 

Once you get started, you may feel more overwhelmed that you did initially, realizing how much work you actually have ahead of you. So just set that timer for 15 minutes. Do what you can in that time. Choose only a small zone to work on. When the buzzer goes off, set the timer for another 15 minutes if you still haven't finished the job. I'm not going to work past one hour each day, because I don't want to injure my back. 

Here's a recap of the steps:

1. Choose what zone you will begin with (think small).
2. Gather the supplies you will need, including your paper and pen for note taking.
3. Set your timer for 15 minutes (reset as needed).
4. Purge first. Pare down duplicates, throw away expired items, give/throw away products you don't use/don't like. Be relentless!
5. Thoroughly clean the area. 
6. Organize your remaining items.
7. Reward yourself with a break!

So who's going to join me? What zone will you begin with first? Imagine having your home decluttered and shiny clean by spring!!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Nature Study: The Basis of All Science

Happy 3rd Sunday of Advent! I wasn't going to blog on Sundays, as this is the day of rest; but for me, contemplation is restful. I was stunned to see that I haven't written a new post in almost a month. This is because I have been pondering many things and have been busy preparing for Christmas and enjoying Advent festivities. Last night at dinner, this repose of the soul enabled me to gain a valuable insight. 

My daughter's friend was visiting, and she lamented that although she was looking forward to her Christmas break from school, she was dreading the science exams that will precede it. She's an 8th grader who is in an advanced science class. This prompted my husband to comment that he was advanced in science in high school. He recalled timed chemistry lab tests. I was surprised to find myself quiet throughout the conversation, and I observed that my mind was fixed upon the phrase Nature Study.

Today I asked our guest more about her class, which is high school level. She described it as physical science but couldn't tell me what that meant. What topics were covered under that heading? All she could relay was that she had learned about energy.   

The only really excellent science class I experienced in public school was in the 6th grade. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to tell the teacher, Miss Snyder, how much I appreciated her class. I explained that I remembered her class, that it made a lasting impression. (And I'm almost 49, peeps!) She brought science alive. It was hands-on, and guess what? We did Nature studies!

I made a leaf collection, relying upon my grandma's knowledge of natural history and her field guides. I caught some insects and drowned them in alcohol (in hindsight, yikes!), pinned them to a board, then researched and labeled them. I had to be outside, observing God's natural world, to complete these projects. I obtained some intimate knowledge of plants and creatures, especially because I lived in the country. 

I'm extremely grateful that as a child and teenager I had many opportunities to explore fields, woods, lakes, ponds, and creeks. My love of Nature has endured. In fact, I think one motivator for  moving away from the city and back to my hometown was the lure of the quiet rural environment and proximity to the memories of my idyllic childhood wandering in the woods and hopping on stones across water. Yet even with these advantages, I realized as an adult that I really had not obtained a strong foundation in natural science. 

If I had any science education in Jr. High, I don't remember it. I enjoyed learning the names of bones in high school, and I loved Moe's scale of hardness. I was extremely fond of the Periodic Table of the Elements, though chemistry alluded me almost entirely. Newton's laws of motion I found to be extremely intriguing. I did not like dissection and couldn't tell one internal organ from another, largely because the formaldehyde the frogs were soaked in caused everything to be the same color. 

Way back in the 1980s, God was still allowed a presence in schools. In one class in high school, probably geology or biology, the teacher showed us a Creation vs. Evolution film. His comment afterward, which surprised me quite a bit, was that he thought it took more faith to believe in evolution than in creation. This was the opinion of a man of science, and I never forgot what he said. Today, such movies would not be shown, and such comments would likely put teachers at risk of being fired. 

Before kids are introduced to advanced science, they should have many years of time spent intimately with Nature. They should be familiar with local trees, landscape features, animals, flowers and habitats; should know them by name. They ought to be able to distinguish the calls of neighborhood birds and the habits of many creatures. Direct observation, living books and nature journaling should take precedence, with textbooks and lab work taking a secondary role of reinforcement of key concepts. Nature Study is the basis of all science, and without such a background, advanced science classes are almost pointless. Most of all, the child should care about the world around him.

Though I don't enjoy the cold, I understand the importance of getting outside in winter, even for a short time, every day. I'm re-committed to a Charlotte Mason approach to natural science, which, by the way, is in harmony with Catholic tradition. The combination of nature deprivation and excessive screen time has lead us increasingly to being a nation of depressed, isolated, and unhealthy people, and children are the greatest victims. We are disconnected from one another, from the natural environment, and as it follows, from knowledge of God himself as a result. I would go so far as to say that we are losing our grip on reality and the wisdom of what it means to be human. It's time to reunite science with a sense of the awesome and the Divine. 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Home as Sanctuary.

Clutter is a bummer. So are crumbs on the kitchen counters and dust bunnies in the hallway. Between the clutter and the dirt, keeping house can just seem like too much. Here's the thing that we must accept: Housework never ends. It never, ever ends. It's an everyday pattern of doing the same things over and over again. Some would call that insanity. I call it LIFE, plain and simple. But there must be a better way to live.

Maybe my house is too big. But I knew a woman in Columbus who lived in a large Victorian with her husband and two small children, and it only took her about 45 minutes a day to clean her home. Having a smaller space means less to take care of, sure, but if we don't have good habits, we have the same exact problems, only crammed into a smaller space. Having a smaller place to live doesn't necessarily equal less stuff. 

One reason I can't let go of Charlotte Mason is her emphasis on habit formation. Good habits are key to enjoying life and living it to the fullest. What can we do?

On Sunday I returned the master bedroom to a state of sanctuary. I dusted and removed some items. I pared down the books again. It feels better. Today I'm considering that the entire house could be a sanctuary. Can you imagine?

That's exactly what we must do--imagine. Dream. See how we want our homes to be in our minds. See how we want our selves to be. 

I got caught up on the laundry pretty well since my last post, but today my goal is to finish all of it, even if that means that a load is not completely full. 

Yesterday we went to the city and unloaded what the used bookstore was willing to take. I sold some books at our homeschooling co-op and will have another chance at that when we next meet. 

Slowly but surely, it's happening. The key is to refrain from bringing more unnecessary stuff into our homes once we clear the clutter. 

With the holidays fast approaching, the time is now to get our homes in order. Wouldn't you love to live in a space that needs only to be maintained by good, daily habits?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Marisa Tomei as Aunt May

Last night for a family movie we watched the most recent Spider-Man installment on DVD. Spider-Man: Homecoming features Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, a much younger and very attractive version of the comic book character. This Aunt May was first seen in Captain America: Civil War, when the latest incarnation of Spider-Man was introduced. 

It seems that Marisa Tomei always plays a lovable character, and her Aunt May is no exception. She perfectly blends the maternal and the sensual, with a quirky, Bohemian style. 

I will soon be turning 49, and Marisa also has a December birthday and will be 53. Being four years my senior, she's my perfect style and beauty mentor. Marisa does not look like a victim of Botox or plastic surgery. I love her waist-length hair and not-trying-to-be-cool eyeglasses. Her clothes and jewelry are simple, and her trim waist is to-die-for. Marissa's Aunt May is totally a look to which I can aspire! I hope I can find some ugly glasses like hers at my next eye doctor appointment...


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Daily Minimalist

I received Zara Fagen's book, Minimalist Homeschooling, a couple of days ago, and I dived right in! What it amounts to is a do-it-yourself workshop for discerning your homeschooling values, prioritizing subjects, and resetting your mind to a paradigm of plenty. I'm reading the book with my journal open and pen in hand. 

I'm reordering Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing magic of Tidying Up from the library. Using these two guides together, I'm going to bring order to my home--and my life--once and for all! My key words for this new year are simplicity and contentment. These words encapsulate the minimalist philosophy for me. 

I've changed the byline of Organic Mothering to "The Daily Minimalist" (yes, a bit of borrowing from "The Daily Connoisseur" blog by Jennifer L. Scott!). My plan is to blog a little bit about this journey on a more regular basis, except for Sundays, which are all about rest. Posts will be short and sweet, and I hope, inspiring. 

Today is all about laundry. I got seriously behind again. Clothing is the first category to declutter with the "KonMari Method". I don't have much to do in this area, since I've already pared down my wardrobe. But I recently bought some new items from Dress Barn, and it helps to have all your clothing clean in order to determine what pieces you may wish to purge...  

After clothing comes books. We pared them down in my house, but they are sitting in boxes waiting to be sold to a used book store an hour away! Just moving clutter somewhere else is no good. It needs to leave the house, my friends. Our homeschool co-op has a curriculum sale coming up next week. Whatever doesn't sell there will join the boxes heading to the book store. So in the next two weeks the first two categories for decluttering will be knocked out. Who wants to minimize daily with me?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ancient History Studies Update

It's hard to believe we are already into the first week of November! I want to update readers on the progress of my history-based unit studies plans. Since my last post, I've found a great blog focused on minimalist homeschooling, "Zara, PhD" ( The linked post begins a series on implementing a minimalist homeschooling mindset. I have also ordered Zara's book, Minimalist Homeschooling, from Amazon, and I'm sure I'll be reflecting a great deal on her wisdom. It just so happens that Zara is Catholic, so that's a bonus!

I've continued to work on paring down the curriculum during this fall term and to create a schedule that is set and easy to follow. It has been difficult to release the Charlotte Mason mindset regarding spreading a huge feast of books and subjects. My goal was to have only a daily list of subjects, but I ended up reverting to including a loop of additional subjects. Not only that, but I was doubling up on some of the daily subjects as well! I was perpetually clogging my mind with worry about how I could juggle it all. I finally tossed Spanish out of the curriculum for now. I know, incredulous gasp! But baby steps to minimalism it must be.

I plan to get back to the Spanish, but first I need to sort out our priority subjects and focus on them. First things first. Zara, PhD is going to hold my hand through this, but I've already made a start. Basically, the top 3 subjects that are most important at this time are math, writing, and literature. Now, integrating subjects is a great way to go about simplifying things. Tomorrow we'll be finished with Seton's Bible History: Old Testament book. That one book incorporated reading, religion, and history. But we haven't worked in Seton's Religion book for awhile, which is the formal catechism we are using this year, continuing from last year. At this rate, we'll be in this book forever!

You will hear folks in homeschooling circles admonish that finishing a book and checking items off a list does not constitute learning. That may be true, but if you spread your efforts across too many books and subjects, the learning will be thin. It's a good thing to spend enough quality time with a book, to go deeply into the subject--and it's a good thing to finish the book. Dragging books out due to lack of consistency is self-defeating. The priority subjects will constitute our daily core, and then subjects of secondary importance (but still key to our unit studies) will be looped. The Catholic Faith permeates the curriculum, but especially as this is Beezy's sacrament of Confirmation year, I don't want to neglect religion as its own subject.

Beezy is still working on her Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project, from Draw and Write Through History. I think she'll finish it this week. So the Old Testament unit will be wrapped up this week, culminating with a study guide I designed and a test. Then next week we'll move on to ancient Egypt!

Our reading/history book will be Cleopatra of Egypt by Leonora Hornblow (Landmark Books). The brilliant aspect with this book is that Cleopatra's world covers the entire territory for our ancient history studies--Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Bible Lands!

I decided to make writing very simple. In addition to cursive writing, Beezy will have one other writing assignment per day. This can include dictation lessons, written narrations, answering chapter questions, poetry or other creative writing, letters to grandparents, personal journaling, etc... I found a Writer's Express handbook at our homeschool co-op to use as a guide for different types of writing.

We're using Saxon Math now, and it's such a relief to have a solid program to follow. I no longer have anxiety about teaching math! We will use this program all the way through high school, as far as Beezy is able to go into the higher math subjects.

I'll just leave you with the schedule I have planned for the remainder of this term (until Christmas break). Daily subjects are math, literature/history, piano practice, and English. The loop includes art, religion, geography, and science/health. These subjects will be rotated throughout the week, or each may get a few days or more at a time, depending on the need. This works out to 5 subjects covered daily, for a 4-day week.

Remember that life itself and extracurricular activities can take care of some of the subjects. Every subject does not need to be covered every day, every term. When you look at my entire schedule, all of the required school subjects are covered (according to the requirements of my state). It is minimalist and simple, yet we have attained the variety and depth characteristic of a liberal arts curriculum. 

Daily Core: (Open with Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens)

- Saxon Math
- Literature/History: Cleopatra of Egypt
- Piano practice
- English (cursive, grammar, writing skills)


- Religion
- Science/Health
- Art
- Geography


- Piano lessons
- Tumbling class
- Religious Ed. class
- Choir and Musical Theater co-op classes