This is why I didn't like your status update

A few weeks back I ran across these two articles:

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What it Did to Me.

I Quit Liking Things on Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s how it Changed My View of Humanity.

(Please excuse the click-bait titles. I’ll give you the TL;DR although I do recommend reading them both — liking everything on facebook turns your newsfeed into an insane and highly polarized confluence of mostly advertisements; not liking anything on facebook means that you have to actually write comments and be social, and it’s nice.)

Both of these articles struck a chord with me. I’m a long-time facebook user — my timeline goes back to 2005, and facebook was pretty new then. I remember having to have a university email address to register, and I remember the furor when they removed that restriction and facebook was invaded first by thirteen-year-olds, and then by our parents and grandparents. I use it to keep in touch with many friends and family who live far away, and I’m not likely to quit any time soon.

The fact that I’m probably a permanent facebook user, however, (whatever “permanent” means in the internet age) doesn’t/shouldn’t mean that I keep using it mindlessly. I do have concerns about facebook’s advertising algorithms, about privacy, and about the fact that it being a free service means that I am the product. And of course there’s the old dead horse about facebook’s inherent superficiality and the false sense of community that it (may) provide. I had already decided to stop engaging in facebook debates — much like how I try not to read the comment section underneath news articles — for the sake of my sanity. And I am ruthless about unfollowing annoying people and blocking just about every app or meme-generating page that crosses my newsfeed. But what about taking Elan Morgan‘s line and actually quitting the ‘like’?

Unlike Morgan, I didn’t announce that I wouldn’t ‘like’ things any more — I just stopped doing it. Either I liked a status enough to comment on it, or I scrolled on by: no more easy middle ground. And since I did that, I do actually find that I enjoy facebook a lot more. Needing to actually comment or not (and needing to decide which option to take) has brought back a degree of mindfulness that I had been missing. Leaving comments has fostered conversations, and it’s nice to engage with people a bit more than I had been. And being made to actually stop and think has curtailed my natural inclination to open it up a aimlessly scroll down for more time than I care to admit. It’s helping me to actually see what people are posting. I don’t think I’ll go back.

Beautiful and useful

As Stan and I prepare to enter our senior year of our degrees, the fact that we’re going to be done in less than a year has started to be a bit loomy. And yes, we think/fret/pray about things like getting jobs after — but more on my mind these days is the fact that we’ll be moving again. In ten months or so we’ll be putting all of our worldly goods on a truck and driving off to parts unknown. When we moved here we filled a 14-foot u-haul pretty much all the way…. and of course, we’ve been accumulating things since then. This is the longest I’ve lived in one place since I moved out of my parents house and so I haven’t had to declutter as regularly as I have in the past.

I do not want to be driving a 17-foot truck if we can help it… never mind anything larger! And as we’ve watched some friends of ours prepare to move to the Arctic (sea lift and all) I have been hit by a major decluttering bug. Out, possessions! Out, out, out! This morning the VVA came by and picked up two bags and one box of sundry goods — at least half of which were baby blankets — as well as a large and horrifying toy box. The itch to divest myself of stuff was at least momentarily scratched — though I’m already looking around to see what else can go out with the next pickup.

This sort of thing was not always so easy for me. I am a packrat by nature, and I come from a long and distinguished line of packrats. Those of you who know me may also know that I tend to anthropomorphize objects. When putting clean dishes away I always put the clean ones on the bottom, so that everything gets used evenly and nobody’s feelings get hurt. Truth. And my mother will recall the bitter tears shed when we got rid of the toothbruth holder that I had known and loved all of the (ten) years of my life. I’m sentimental. This is just my baseline; and I’m definitely not against owning things. We’re not minimalists — just look at our bookshelves.

But I think where things have shifted for me is that I’m tired of owning things I don’t like. Or don’t use. Or wouldn’t have in my house at all except for the fact that it carries some sort of sentimental connotation or psychic debt. (Like the wedding present it took me four tries to get rid of, because I love the person who gave it to me, even though the present itself was something I didn’t like and would never use.) I am finally starting to be ruthless with my possessions.

Now, I finally agree with William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

We’re not there yet. But we’re getting closer. Today we went to see said Arctic-moving friends, who are selling off everything they weren’t able to put on the sea lift. We got a few books (ie, useful objects), but we also got a painting. A big painting! A big, impractical, lovely, happy-making painting that I know to be beautiful. And it is useful, too, taking our living room focal point from this:

Generic Ikea print left over from Stan’s bachelor days (now in exile on floor in hallway)

to this:

Beautiful seascape, plus bonus accidental shadow from my hand

Le sigh. Le prrrr. I would like to have fewer things in my house, true — but those that are left, I would like to be beautiful and/or (preferably and) useful. Today was a win in that regard.

Thinking about habits

Something or other in my online reading (what? by whom? I don’t recall) has lately gotten me thinking a lot about habits, and led me to both Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Gretchen Rubin‘s Better Than Before. Both books are very good, but they work especially well as a pair: Duhigg tackles more of the brain-science of habit (like the cue-habit-reward cycle) and Rubin focuses more on the social/personal factors of habit formation and change (like her “four tendencies” of personality, which determine how we respond to both internal and external expectations). Together they paint a broad picture of how we form habits and how habits form us. I was intrigued by Duhigg’s more technical approach, but I appreciate Better Than Before‘s practicality, as well as the emphasis on knowing yourself — since people tend to respond to the making and breaking of habits in predictable but different ways.

For example, Rubin broadly divides people into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Take the quiz here). I’m an Obliger; I find it much easier to live up to other people’s expectations than my own. It’s hard for me to form a habit without some sort of external accountability; I don’t like to let people down, but can (too) easily shirk a habit if I’m the only one who knows or cares. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I do everything for which I’m externally accountable ungrudgingly, of course — witness most of last semester’s homework — but I still do it. (In terms of school work, I think this is why I struggle with courses that use contract grading; I don’t feel driven to try the same way I would if I really had to earn a grade, rather than just meeting a minimum requirement of work done.) There are many other categories Rubin looks at; one that stuck out to me was the Opener/Finisher divide. I’m a Finisher; I get a bigger charge and sense of accomplishment over finishing something (a project, a jar of peanut butter, a blog post) than out of starting a new one. I like looking at something and being able to say “It’s done!”. By the same measure, I get stressed out when I have so many things on the go that I’m not finishing any of them, and it’s hard to stay motivated when I have a long-term project that won’t be finished any time soon.

This strikes me as really useful data. This summer I’ve started working on my thesis, which I’ll have to submit and defend next April. But since I don’t (have to) check in with my advisor particularly often, I’m not working with a lot of external accountability here — and the long deadline doesn’t help, because it will be many months before I can look at my thesis and say “It’s done!”. So how do I make sure that I keep working on it?

Right now, like this:

As it turns out, a sticker chart is pretty much ideal for me. Here’s why I think it works:

1. I do love stickers. That’s not enough on its own, but it surely helps.

2. The chart keeps me accountable. I’m not keeping track of whether I work on my thesis privately; I’m keeping track right there on my dining room wall, where my husband and friends can see it. Even though they’re not checking up on me, they still know what’s going on. Having my chart visible turns it into an external motivator.

3. I can easily see what I’ve accomplished. I put on a star sticker when I do thesis reading, and a happy face when I do writing. At the end of the week, if I have at least one sticker on at least six days, I get a big sticker. My Finisher tendencies motivate me to earn a sticker every day, and to keep the big sticker chain unbroken. Even though my thesis won’t be finished for a long time, every day I get to “finish” a small step.

4. It’s low-key: I don’t have minimums for earning stickers. If I read anything at all — even if it’s just one paragraph — I get a sticker for that day. If I write anything at all — even if it’s just one sentence — I get a sticker for that day. For some people this might not be helpful since it could be a tacit encouragement to make a minimal effort. But for me, it’s more important to establish the habit of working on my thesis every day (or nearly) than to worry about exactly how much work I’m doing. Some days I get quite a lot done; others, I don’t. But I’m working on it regularly and that’s what’s going to make the difference in the long run. Slow and steady, etc. etc. (And since starting my chart I’ve read upwards of 800 pages and written one complete chapter and smaller chunks of others, so clearly something is working.)

Rubin also tackles the convenience factor in habit formation: if we want to establish a good habit, we need to make it convenient. And if we want to kill a bad habit, we need to make it inconvenient for ourselves (which could be something as simple as, say, storing the cookies in a lidded opaque jar instead of a clear unlidded one). This rings true for me. What finally got me flossing every night was moving the floss from inside the bathroom cupboard to a spot on the counter — it’s visible, so I see it and am reminded to floss, and it’s right there so it’s totally convenient. And now I floss! Who knew it could be so easy? (Gretchen Rubin might have known.)

This all has intrigued me greatly. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be thinking about habits for many days to come.

Week of finals and firsts

It’s Sunday, which means that we have officially made it through finals week — all exams taken, all papers both written and submitted, commencement attended (Stan marhsalled and I did childcare) — and our second year of seminary is done. Done! It’s not been long enough that we feel done… probably that won’t happen until we graduate, since we’ll both still be doing school through the summer, but it’s a milestone nonetheless.

Speaking of milestones:

1. Stan and I had an oral exam on Tuesday, which meant that Anselm got left with a babysitter for the first time. The baby did great; I was a little weepy, but rallied for the exam. We left him with another family whose son I’ve been watching one afternoon a week through the semester — the boys get a kick out of each other, which helps a lot. We’re hoping to work out some sort of child-sharing arrangement through the summer (each of us taking both boys for one afternoon a week, or similar) so that we can get some guaranteed free time / couple time / nap time / whatever on a regular basis.

2. And speaking of leaving the baby, he’s now going to bed at a relatively reliable hour and staying asleep for a good long chunk afterwards — and so one night last week I put him to bed and then went out! with my friends! without the baby! for… yup, the first time as far as I can recall. I was so excited I was pretty much vibrating (yes: there was some teasing). We went out to the new pub in town — it’s quite nice, and gets a million bonus points for being the only non-smoking bar around these parts (since the last one, ah, burned down) — and confirmed our drinking status as moms and other lightweights. Fortunately someone’s husband showed up after his shift ended to finish all our beers for us. Ha.

3. We’ve been trying the baby on solids, since he’s old enough to start and is showing a lot of interest in food. I’m not sure that he’s actually swallowed anything we’ve offered yet, but the faces he makes are pretty amazing.

One thing that does feel summery — now that we’ve finished and can turn our attention to other things — is the start of summer projects. First on the list is completing our librarything catalogue; both Stan and I are book-buyers and our to-be-catalogued piles were taking over the office. We crested 1,000 books catalogued yesterday — with still a good chunk left to go! After that’s done, my next project is probably going to be finishing making Anselm’s Christmas stocking, which has been on the hooks since last November. Ah, well, some you win…

Justifiably delicious

This post is a rescuee from my drafts folder. It was written but not published in late 2011 or early 2012, when Stan and I were engaged. Please note that I fully stand behind the sentiments expressed herein.  

In a way, I love being sick. Being sick is like being handed a license to indulge yourself; it’s amazing how many things suddenly become justifiable once you’ve got the sniffles. Stay in bed and watch an entire half-season of Dr Who? Why not? Call your financé to ask why he hasn’t been calling to check up on you? Sure! Everything goes when you’re sick.

And then there’s the matter of dinner.

It goes something like this:

  1. Hmm, my throat is really sore. What’s good for sore throats? Honey is good for sore throats.
  2. I’ll eat this spoonful of honey. Nom nom nom… Ooh, look, there’s still leftover honey cake!
  3. Honey cake = honey (good for sore throats!), plus eggs (protein!) and flour (grain!) and things (nutrition, ahoy!). Maybe I’ll eat some honey cake.
  4. Hmm. This is really crumbly. I’ll put it in a bowl.
  5. I wonder if this would be good with milk?
  6. Wow, I’m eating cake cereal for dinner.
Don’t look at me like that. It’s probably still healthier than Lucky Charms.

Please tell me she's not one of them

Anselm has some neck issues — either from a birth injury or from just the way he was positioned while growing in utero — and so he gets physical therapy once a week. It’s a great program, actually. The county we’re in runs free early intervention services for qualifying children. The baby passed his initial screening, and so now we have a therapist come to our house once a week to do stretches and strengthening exercises with him. Her name is Michelle and we like her a lot.

Michelle has a son who’s about two weeks younger than Anselm, so it’s been fun to compare notes. She also has a daughter, who turned four in December. That means she was born in (count with me here) 2010.

Now, let’s try and remember what happened in 2010:

  • Haiti gets hit by a brutal earthquake
  • The Vancouver Olympics happen and all of Canada screams in unison (We love you, Sidney Crosby)
  • Eyjafjallajokull (which I did not know how to pronounce then and do not know how to pronounce now)  erupts
  • BP Oil runs into some trouble off the Louisiana coast
  • Spain wins the World Cup
  • The Chilean miners get trapped, and then rescued
And, what was it? — oh yes,
  • The Twilight series, featuring Bella, the twittiest twit in all of literature, hits the peak of its popularity. 
…..
Guess what Michelle’s daughter is named? 
(It may be coincidence, of course… but I’m glad that I decided I liked her before I found out her child’s name.)

Ice, food, and wrath

1. Our apartment is on an embankment that overlooks one of the larger rivers in town. Yesterday the annual ice-breakage started: not naturally, but by means of a very strange-looking amphibious vehicle that is apparently here from New Brunswick (did it drive?). It’s got some big inner-tube hips on either side, and a huge claw up front, and it’s been working on the river for, oh, it must be pushing 36 hours now.

Yes. It worked all night. I give them kudos for industriousness, but boy howdy, we could have done without the noise.

2. Over the past day or two I re-read Kathleen Flinn’s excellent The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Flinn is a Cordon Bleu graduate who went back home to the states and pulled a What Not to Wear on a bunch of people’s kitchens, teaching them to cook along the way. Each chapter has a culinary theme (meat, fish, bread, soup, etc.) and is made up of  very readable vignettes, with tips and recipes thrown in to boot.

I first read this shortly after we were married, and it was super inspiring for a while… but it was a library book, and so although I really appreciated her de-mystification of cooking, I eventually fell off the wagon again. But now I’ve bought a copy of my own, which I can highlight and underline and make notes in. The funny thing is that I feel more confident in the kitchen just having read it.

Tonight I’m cooking asian-style (read: has ginger, garlic, and soy sauce) braised beef with veg. We’ll have to see how it turns out, but in the mean time, here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

a bunch of stewing beef, cut small
soy sauce
salt & pepper
an inch of fresh ginger
half an onion
three cloves of garlic
one zucchini
two peppers (one yellow, one red)
olive oil
white wine
water

First I cut up the meat, then set it to marinate in the fridge while I was at work with the soy sauce, salt, pepper, and ginger (I cut the ginger into many many thin strips). I also chopped all of the vegetables down small.

Next, I heated some oil in a cast-iron skillet. The meat came out of the marinade, with the ginger, and went into the pan, just until it was browned. I removed the meat to a handy plate, refreshed the oil, and dumped in my veggies. I let those cook for a few minutes (basically until the onion started to go translucent) and then plopped the meat back in on top of it all. I poured a couple of glugs of wine over the lot — red probably would be better with beef, but white is what we had — and then added some water for good measure.

After that I covered the skillet with a large metal mixing bowl, since I don’t have a skillet lid, and shoved the whole thing in the oven at 350. I’m guessing it’ll be done after 1-1.5 hours, and we’ll see if it’s successful! My nose guesses “yes”.

3. Apparently Google Reader is shutting down come July. Boo! Hiss! Gnash! Because I am vengeful, I’ve already switched to feedly (so far, so good). I just don’t understand why they’d shut down reader (which is popular and works admirably well) over something like google+ (which… does anyone use that? does anyone even know anyone who uses that? …. Bueller?).

Veronique, I think I'd like us to be friends

From here:

I listened to a few radio interviews today in between hosting a weekly meeting for my local babywearing group. Yes, women who choose to be attached to their babies as much as possible. From what I heard, Women’s Day is all about abortion and contraception and how hard it is to get either. Isn’t there more to being a woman than to be sexually available and artificially infertile? Because my experience as a woman who raised and gave birth to 8 children, running a home and occasionally a slew of volunteer activities is worth nothing in today’s economy. My degree is outdated, I am unemployable to most but the friend who gave me my part-time job, and I can’t even get a biology credit to return to University without going back to high school. As if I hadn’t learned more putting my kids through school than is required to enter the midwifery degree I so long to get. But hey, what is really keeping women down is not having enough pills. No: What is keeping women down is the belief that women have to be barren like men to succeed and that childbearing and child-rearing are impediments to equality. So that’s your International Women’s Day reflection from a women who is not using artificial birth control out of principle. And while I call myself a feminist for my radical view on the beautiful integrity of the feminine body, ovaries and all, I know that most feminists would be ashamed to count me as their own. Cheers!

Snippets

This is the way we text:

Christine (2:15 pm): Let’s name a child Gondibert.

Christine (2:21 pm): A university friend of mine is randomly in Rivertown this week! We’re going to get together on Thurs probably since I’m off. I’m excited to see her 🙂

Christine (2:23 pm): Hmm, I wonder how long my fly has been undone?

Stan (2:33 pm): Awesome.

Christine (2:35 pm): Gondibert works for you, then?

Apparently Les Mis is like Sugar Crisp

For those who also can never get enough:

(We saw the new film on Saturday — and I rooted this out today since seeing it only once in three days would be just too sad — and here is all 2:49:55 for your enjoyment. Now you too can wash the dishes while bawling like a baby as Eponine sings her last duet.)

Update: Apparently NBC has pulled this video for copyright violations. Which is understandable. But also: boo.

Update to Update: But here’s the 10th anniversary concert! Hooray!