Everything That Remains

Everything That Remains by The Minimalists is a story about the transformation from the pursuit of achievement and material success to a life of intention and personal fulfillment.  I have enjoyed reading it and would recommend it, if you are interested in this sort of thing.  However, there was one principle of of minimalism presented in this book sit well with me: intentional relationships.

The author describes how in our age of technology we are no longer bound to make friends based on proximity and convenience.  While I agree that one can make incredibly meaningful relationships through the internet, I want to advocate for those relationships made close to home and here’s why: proximity matters.  If relationships were only about shared interests and values, it would make sense to focus only people with which you have a lot in common.  But what about your elderly neighborhood that needs help getting her trash cans out to the curb after her hip surgery?  What about the kid next door that is shooting hoops in his driveway alone and would appreciate your company?

ETR_3D_Retina-500x773I think it makes sense to be intentional about your time and energy.  It it also advisable to not hang on to relationships that are toxic or abusive.  However, not every relationship is going to be mutually fulfilling or based on commonality.  Relationships based on proximity and convenience are important too.  Here are some examples of reasons why I value people who are physically close to me even if we aren’t close in other ways:

  • I needed someone to watch my 2-year old during my prenatal doctor appointments and a neighbor helped me.
  • An older woman in my bible study needed a ride to church so I picked her up and she took me out to lunch.
  • I ran out of sugar and sent a kid over to the neighbor’s house to borrow some.
  • A young couple moved in across the street and the movers were delayed bringing their stuff.  I gave them a couch and they had my family over for a housewarming party.
  • Someone in our church had a surgery so we brought a meal to the family.
  • A family in the process of moving gave us all the movies their kids no longer watched.  We now have an extensive SpongeBob Squarepants collection that no one in this house will ever grow out of.

My point is this: Minimalism is great for stuff, not people.  While my emotionally closest, bestest friends may be miles away from me, I still need the people who live in my town, whether we have things in common or not.  The people who are physically close to you are important. It might be worth the effort to FIND some commonality rather than focusing all your attention on people miles away from you that can’t bring you soup when you have a flu.

Advertisements

Hillbilly Elegy

I grew up thinking that hillbilly is a synonym for redneck or hick.  I thought it was just another derogatory name for poor (white) people in rural areas that don’t have much class or education.  Turns out, Hillbilly refers specifically to people of the Appalachia mountain region that spans 18 states from North to South.  It is an area that is economically depressed and isolated due to the rugged geography and lack of infrastructure.  It has also been robbed of his natural resources by corporations that leave after they destroy the environment and quit getting federal tax breaks to do it.  Though the title of this book would lead you to believe that it is about a family in this region, it isn’t.

51HFceJnaCL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_This book is J.D. Vance’s story of growing up in rust belt Ohio to a mentally ill mother who abused drugs and alcohol.  She married and divorced several times, creating chaos and insecurity for Vance and his sister.  Their maternal grandparents became a refuge from the storm and Vance spent a good portion of his childhood living with them. THEY grew up in Eastern Kentucky in the Appalachia Mountains so they could be considered Hillbillies, but the book isn’t about them.  It’s about the pathology of a poverty mindset.

A person with a poverty mindset says my situation is hopeless and there is nothing I can do to make things better.  When money comes their way,  they spend it.  They numb themselves with drugs and alcohol, avoiding discipline and accountability.  They depend upon family to provide basic needs well into adulthood and take for granted their aid.  When bad things happen, they blame external forces out of their control and do not accept responsibility for their actions like showing up late, taking long breaks, or not coming in at all.  These are the behaviors Vance saw growing up and wanted to highlight.

The problem is that this isn’t a hillbilly problem or even a white working poor problem.  This is a human problem and it is more complicated than economics or geography.  In my life, I have lived in a variety of situations. I’ve always told myself, I can handle anything if I know it’s only temporary, but what if it isn’t temporary?  What if it seems like nothing will ever change?  What if the misery you are in is all you can hope for? There is a proverb that says, “Without vision, the people perish.”  That is the problem Vance is identifying in his book.  It’s a universal condition, not a hillbilly one.

Turtles All the Way Down

35504431._UY630_SR1200,630_Turtles All the Way Down?  What does that mean?  What a weird title for a book.  I’m am going to spoil it for you because 1)it has nothing to do with the story and 2)it actually explains a lot about the story.  You see, it refers to the location of the earth in the universe.  It is a plain on the back of a turtle that sits on the back of a turtle.  When one tries to find where the foundation of the world lies, where everything begins, there are just turtles all the way down.  There is no beginning.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green has a plot that’s mildly engaging but it is mostly about being inside the mind of a teenager afflicted with obsessive thoughts and anxiety.   She lives in a constantly thought spiral about catching a bacterial infection and dying.  The rational part of her mind tries to fight the irrational part but it seems like the crazy is winning.  She keeps cutting her thumb to reminder herself what is real and then sanitizing it to keep it from getting infected.  She goes so far as to drink hand sanitizer to keep germs from invading her body.  All the while, she tries to talk herself down but the crazy inside is a powerful bully.

There is a story here about a friend, a missing person, a romantic interest, but it is mostly about fighting demons and what that looks like from the inside and the outside.  While I have not been diagnosed with a mental disorder or condition, I can relate to the battle of competing thoughts.  Even as a grown-ass person, I fight the negative thought train, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t doing enough”, “People don’t really like you”, or “Nothing you do really matters.”  I rationally know those are lies, but it doesn’t stop them from coming in and trying to take over.  It’s only by jumping off that train and running in the other direction, the one focused on someone or something besides myself, that I can keep from wallowing in despair.

Since I am only inside my own head and no one else’s, I not sure how common this affliction is. I would venture to say it is pretty common but most novelists don’t create protagonists with mental illness.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t related to a person’s struggle with their thought life since I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath in high school.  I can’t say this is the best book I’ve ever read but I appreciate the validation that even when someone is fighting a battle inside her own head, she is loved and valued.  Now go out and tell your nearest crazy person that you love them.

This Season of Life

Sitting in this hospital waiting room, memories of previous waits flood my mind. Old magazines and jigsaw puzzles. Hot water with cider and cocoa packets and stale coffee. Serious family conversations impossible not to hear. The screen showing patient progress hasn’t been updated in two hours. It was supposed to take 45 minutes. Dad took his insulin this morning even though he wasn’t allowed to eat. The doctor didn’t specifically tell him not to, so he did.

“Are you his caregiver?”, the nurse asks me.

“No. I am his daughter. He lives alone.”

I think about the word caregiver and how far I feel from that word. I do my best to not care. When someone refuses to listen, to change, or to grow, it can drive you insane to care. I have mastered the art of not asking clarifying questions, not correcting or repremanding, and not making requests or demands. I have stopped parenting my parent, even though that is probably what he needs right now. He needs a caregiver and I have become a “couldn’t care less” giver.

It is a strange season of life, to be needed but not wanted or wanted but not needed; To have one of your people graduating the same week another one of your people visits the hospital. One is figuring out how not to need me while the other is realizing they do. I am still figuring out how I feel about it all.

I am learning to dance, listening to the unhurried rhythms of Grace. There is no end, no finish line or prize. There is just new songs and new partners. To not care is to sit in a folding chair along the wall. That’s not something a can do any more. So I am learning to dance and be a caregiver.

Happy As a Dane

Dane bookSince starting my career as a real estate agent, I haven’t had as much time to read for pleasure.  However, I am still an active member of the public library book club.  A couple months ago we read Happy As A Dane by Malene Rydahl and had a spirited discussion about income inequality in America. It become less a conversation about why Danes are happy and more of a debate about why Americans are not happy.  I think it is safe to say that American culture is far from ideal when it comes to mental health. However, I reject the notion that Denmark is a glorious utopia where everyone feels good all the time.

Rydahl writes her book like a love letter to her homeland, although she doesn’t live in Denmark.  She lives in France.  She extols all the virtues of Danish culture from the lack of pressure on school children to perform academically to the attitude of solidary Danes have for their fellow citizen.  Danes have a high level of trust in their government and community and don’t worry about being cheated or harmed.  They have strong relationships and connections to family and friends, which makes for a happy life.  As I read all the reasons why Danes are happy, I found a few that would make me profoundly Unhappy.  Here are a few.

  1. Mothers do not stay home with their children.  While it may seem wonderful for women to be able to send their children to a government funded daycare so they can continue their career after parenthood, it would have been a nightmare for me to be forced to go back to work after having my babies.  I didn’t want to be away from my kids when they were little and I am happy I had the freedom to be home with them and not send them to daycare.
  2. Marriage is in decline.  Raising my children as a single mother and not being able to expect faithfulness from my husband would not make me happy.  I am happy that I have a partner who is committed to providing for and protecting me and our children.  It may seem “old-fashioned” but it is our partnership and what we have created together that makes our relationship lasting and meaningful.  I would be miserable in a culture of casual sex and no committment.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.
  3. The weather in Denmark sucks.  Rain. Clouds. Cold.  The Danes may say they are happy because they have free education and health care, but their country isn’t a place most of us would want to go on vacation.  Sunshine makes me happy.  The weather in Denmark makes me sad.  You can keep it Danes.

Questions Prospective Students Should Ask

Deciding which college to attend is a huge decision.  College marketing departments do a great job of branding their school, creating attractive brochures and websites, and making enticing claims about their best features.  After you’ve listen to the hype, make sure you get these questions answered before you decide.

  1. Will my scholarship money be renewed each year for the same amount?
  2. Will I need to reapply for department scholarship each year? Will the amount go down each year?
  3. Will all the college classes I have taken transfer for credit?
  4. Will the classes taken in my major count toward my major requirements or will they be turned into general education credits?
  5. What religion classes are required?
  6. What is the student to facility ratio?
  7. What percentage of classes are taught by adjunct professors or graduate students?
  8. Are the classes I need for my major available so that I can graduate on time?
  9. Are there work study positions available on campus?
  10. How much does the middle meal plan cost and how many meals does it include?
  11. Can I use my meal plan outside the cafeteria in the student center or coffee shop?
  12. What food choices can I count on being available every day?
  13. Are there special theme nights during the month for dinners?
  14. Can I control the temperature in my dorm room?
  15. Are dorms or floors of the dorm co-ed? Can I live on a single sex floor?
  16. Are bathrooms private or shared?
  17. How are roommates matched?
  18. Is there a quiet or study dorm?
  19. If the dorm isn’t quiet, are there quiet places to study?
  20. Have the dorms been well maintained? Cleaned?  Painted?
  21. Are there churches within walking distance of the campus?
  22. Is there security on campus or a program where you don’t have to walk alone at night?
  23. What travel abroad options are available? Is the cost included in tuition?
  24. Do you have a career counselor that connects students with internships and jobs off campus?
  25. How are the roads and parking around campus?
  26. How good is the campus Wi-Fi?
  27. How good is the public transit near campus?
  28. Is there a grocery store or good restaurants nearby?
  29. What can I expect to spend on living expenses beyond room and board?
  30. What health care services are offered on campus?
  31. How many counseling visits can I get for free?
  32. What services or rentals does the outdoor recreation department provide?
  33. Is there a gym, pool, or fitness center available to students and what are the hours?
  34. Are the dorms closed down during holiday breaks?

Eclipse Car Trouble

 

 

IMG_20170821_063710467_HDR

The heavy traffic on 395 South in Eastern Oregon.

I have had a rough week.  Early in the week, our air conditioner stopped working.  Luckily the super high 100 degree temperatures have subsided so we have only been moderately uncomfortable in the early evening before the air outside cools down.  We have been keeping our windows open at night to bring the cool air along with the noise from our back alley neighbor.  People drive, bike, and walk down our alley all night long and visit his back gate.  They yell at each other and yell at their dogs, which like to bark.  We haven’t slept well and I’m personally having trouble loving my neighbor.  I am praying he meets Jesus, one way or another.

We excitedly planned to drive south to view the solar eclipse that happened yesterday.  Sunday night I drove my car home from visiting a friend and it started making a terrible noise.  My husband confirmed that it was not drivable so we decided to take our other car for our trip.  It is older and smaller.  He uses it to get to and from work and we planned to let our daughter take it to college when she leaves in the fall.  Plans have changed.IMG_20170821_090723978

We woke up at 5am on Monday and made it out of the house by 5:15.  The traffic between Pendleton and Ukiah consisted of a line of six or so vehicles headed South.  We arrived at our destination in Dale, OR in two hours and found a place to park along the road with 20 other cars.  From there, we watched for three hours a stream of cars fly through town.

IMG_20170821_093312683_HDRWe sent out our folding lawn chairs and snacks and waited for the show to begin.  It felt a little like waiting for a fireworks display.  We took goofy pictures and visited with the people around us.  We flipped our eclipse glasses on and off when we wanted to watch the progress.  The color and intensity of the light around us gradually changed.  I joked that it looked like we were in a snap chat filter. Finally, the sun hit total eclipse and we took our glasses off and looked at the ring of fire in the sky.  The rest of the sky was dark, but not like night.  It was like the sky at 4am, just before the sun comes up.  It lasted for 40 seconds but it was totally worth the two hour drive.IMG_20170821_102237518

After the total eclipse ended, we loaded our stuff back in the trunk of the car and ended home.  Because we were at the furthest north point, we could beat the traffic home.  Everything was going smoothly and I thought for sure we could be back in town for the start of the 4-H Judging contest at 1pm.  We started the climb up the curved highway near Ukiah, OR, accelerating passed some slow moving cars. Then, poof.  Check engine light.  No power.  We pulled off the road and turned the car off.  My husband looked under the hood and then returned to turn the key.  Nothing.  Dead.

A Department of Transportation truck arrived shortly to call us a tow truck.  We waited along side the road for 2 1/2 hours.  We found some shade and made the best of it.  When the tow truck did arrive, he brought his girlfriend so we could all fit on the way home.  She was sweet but her car left much to be desired.  It was missing both a front body panel and a vent cover.  The floor boards and door pockets held trash and containers. The air conditioner was mediocre at best; it made a scary noise when I tried to turn it up.  Carolyn and I rode with her and her overly friendly dog and Lauren rode with her dad in the tow truck so that she wouldn’t have an asthma attack.

 

Twenty miles outside of Pendleton, the traffic piled up and we slowed to a crawl all the way into town.  We passed an accident along the way.  We arrived in Pendleton around 3pm.  We talked to the tow truck driving about buying our non-functioning car and getting a ride home to Walla Walla but first he had to tow one of the cars we saw in the accident on the way into town.  More waiting.  I called my dad to come pick us up and walked to Hal’s to buy some milkshakes.  The driver came back and agreed to take our car and take $100 off the tow bill.  Dad arrived at 4:30pm and we made it back to Walla Walla, just in time for Lauren to model her dress for the 4-H judges.  She was no longer eligible for top prize, but she can still be in the fashion show.  We accomplished our goals of seeing the eclipse and attending the 4-H judging contest, but the in between time was no fun.  And I’m sunburned.

The air conditioner is getting fixed this morning and our other car is going into the shop.  Giving how badly yesterday went, the week can only go up from here.