wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Quite Likely Events

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They are such fascinating studies of human behaviors, what makes people tick when they are not even aware of it, how trends take hold, why the small people sometimes inexplicably roust the huge ones, etc.

These are the ones I have read or listened to:




I know some people hate his studies. They think he oversimplifies things, puts them into neat boxes when there really are no boxes. But there are! There are categories and predictable behaviors, but there are also boxes for the totally unexpected, and those are the best ones of all.  I like this quote:  The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

We listened to Gladwell’s Ted talk on David and Goliath this summer, and you should too. If you don’t agree with his ideas, at least it will take your mind for a little spin of possibilities. The entire book is comprised of anecdotal evidence that giants are not as powerful as they seem. The chapter on how difficult it is to parent well when you are rich was quite affirming. Studies have shown that over 75K in annual income will make it significantly harder to raise well-adjusted children than when your income falls in a lower bracket. Whew! At least we are safe on that score!

My favorite is still The Tipping Point, probably because of my fascination with people’s behavior. When I got to spend a day at the Mother Earth News Fair, I had just as much fun watching people as I did checking out the vendors and listening to the keynote speakers. That is where I saw the impeccably flawless lady who seemed to be having a bad day. Remember her from my last post? I didn’t actually interview her, so I cannot know for sure why she was giving her husband such sour looks.

Maybe she had a sore in her mouth that was causing her to see the world as grey and hopeless and even drinking water hurt. She couldn’t eat any pretzel if she wanted to. (Ouch! the salt!)

Maybe her favorite granddaughter had just dropped out of med school in favor of joining a band of farmers living communally off the soil in the hinterlands, and she came to the fair to try to understand what her granddaughter was thinking!

Maybe her husband had an autoimmune disease that caused him agonies every time he ate gluten, and she knew he would be moaning to her all evening after he ate that pretzel.

Maybe he wasn’t even her husband, just some nettlesome guy who knew her back in highschool and still thought she was pretty.

Okay, that is getting a little far out, but you really never do know and it is just a smidge arrogant to assume that the other person’s behavior is uncomplicated. I still lean toward my first impression that she was just being catty.  At any rate, it’s interesting, which is why I suggest you give the Gladwell books a try. Check them out at the library if you feel doubtful. Tell me what you think. 🙂

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The Milk of Human Kindness

I thought about beauty quite a bit recently, seeing as this is a subject that interests us all. I may have implied in my post that I disdain all fashion, and I have to confess, that is not true. My ideas of what is attractive are very influenced by what I have been taught as a Mennonite, I know that. But I don’t live under a rock, and like all of us, I like to feel pulled together, not frumpy and straggly. That latter feeling makes it very hard to be pleasant. It is on the opposite end of the modesty spectrum, so far out as to be highly noticeable. So yes, I do care about how I look and I notice how other people look. I have a little story to illustrate what I was trying to say:

At a recent event, I noticed a lady in front of me who was strikingly beautiful. She had long, flowing, silver hair and flawless skin without even crow’s feet around the eyes. Although she looked to be 55 or 60, there was no trace of extra chin or flappy arms. She wasn’t skinny or unnatural, just exceedingly well preserved and as poised as royalty. When her husband showed up with two water bottles and a soft pretzel, I watched her reaction and observed with sudden clarity that no crow’s feet= no sense of humor. He gave her the water, but she seemed only to see the pretzel and narrowed her eyes with the merest hint of disapproval. He chuckled a bit nervously and made excuses for his lack of appropriate food choices. She said nothing, just looked at him without any expression except mild scorn. He offered her some pretzel and she turned away. At this point I wanted to say, “But he brought you nice, cold, bottled water! You could at least thank him.” Of course, I didn’t. I looked at that lovely profile and I didn’t think it was beautiful anymore. Her husband ate his pretzel with the nonchalance of a naughty little boy, then got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

So here’s the thing. If you had everything you wanted, could people stand you? I have a theory that very beautiful people tend to get away with more brattiness in life because somehow we excuse them for bad behavior. It’s called the “halo effect”. I googled it and found it quite interesting. It’s why pretty little simpletons get married to rich men with hardly any skills other than giggling. (edit: the rich men don’t giggle. That’s the girl’s job.) It’s also why overly-confident, handsome boys get hired for jobs that they are not even competent at. Gah. The injustice! So anyway, here’s to looking deeper than skin.

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Here’s story two. I heard such an inspiring thought this morning. “If you are raising a family, you are doing building work, and your home should resemble a construction zone. Don’t even try for a museum.”

Wow! That’s so true, I thought. I won’t forget that one. Then the day happened. Before supper I asked the girls to clean up the living room, since obviously they needed something to do because they were not outside in the gorgeousness that is our September. They did, and I rewarded them with tiny bits of food for a doll party on the deck before I set to pulling weeds. All day I have had a terribly painful sore on my tongue that seems to have started from eating too many tomato slices a few days ago. I could hardly talk and even drinking water made my eyes smart. Pain can make one feel ugly too, so I removed myself from society and went to the garden to set my little strawberry plants free from their weedy competition until it got too dark to see.

When I returned to the house, there they were, listening to “Little Men” on audio and the house in shambles. Again. There was a teetering pile of folded laundry that just hadn’t made it to drawers, mixed with every kind of project five active little bodies can think up, including a freshly painted plastic bucket and some sticky apple schnitzes on the computer desk. And the dishes weren’t done. I did not even once think about the museum/construction zone quote. “You guys have got. to. own. your. messes!” I said emphatically. It was bad, on the scale of messes about at Rubble but not yet at Disaster. In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse when I considered the tube of super glue on the floor, as well as a cider jug that seemed to have been the refreshment of choice. They sheepishly looked around and said, “What do you mean? You didn’t give us any instructions,” but they knew quite well and scurried around picking perler beads out of the frizzies of the carpet and putting paper snibbles into the trashcan and dishes into the dishwasher. It was probably a good thing that my tongue was too sore to say much. As I cleaned the dirt out of my fingernails (without benefit of a nailbrush, which is AWOL, probably being used on a dolly’s mop) and washed my sweaty hair, I thought about the construction zone and my fuss.

The Proverbs 31 woman speaks with “the law of kindness”. I do so aspire to be like her and it seems God is very interested in giving me lots of practice. I need to learn as much as my children to own my messes, so we had a quieter, kinder talk, and thus ended the day.

It’s still a good quote. I shall repeat it as my watchword when I work through Saturday. Anybody joining me?

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up.

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Five Beauty Tips for Every Woman

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Recently I saw an outfit selfie and the girl was saying, “I don’t know what it is, but something just seems wrong with this outfit. Help me out. Is it the cardigan? The dress? The combination of the cardigan, dress, and headband?” In her friends’ comments on the photo, someone made the illuminating observation that it was the sandals. They were too strappy and didn’t coordinate well with the horizontal lines on the dress. Okay then. I would never have thought of it. I am quite certain that I make frequent mistakes along those lines, but here’s the thing: I don’t really have time for that. When I ask my husband, “Does this look all right?” he often responds with, “You are a grown-up. You can wear what you like.” So very helpful and yet very freeing!

I have a lot of beautiful friends. Not one of them is ugly. Not one. Every woman that I know well enough to consider my friend has some beauty that I see and I rarely think about a lack of fashion sense unless they bring it up themselves. A few of them are gorgeous by any standard, but most have design flaws (yes, we think of them as design flaws and forget about the Designer) that they bug themselves about. I have good news though! These beauty tips are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your ears stick out or your hair is flat or your face is wrinkled and liver-spotted. Seeing that I have so many lovely friends, I would like to share some beauty tips that I have gleaned from them.

  1. There really is beauty in simplicity. It is interesting to see the trends to neutral colors and simply tailored patterns come back. It seems the fewer flamboyant things you put on yourself, the less you have to worry that they clash. Granted, I have moved a fair distance from the four color options I could wear as a girl, but I do know that one should be careful about wearing plaids and floral prints together with a chevron scarf and a pile of Lilla-Rose hair accessories.
  2. The most beautiful people think about others more than themselves. You could have a triple chin and warts on every one, but if you are genuinely interested in others, they will think you are a wonderful person to be around. I have to be honest, sometimes when it seems like a person is just looking at one spot on my face, I get really nervous that I missed something obvious like a chin hair or broccoli stuck in my teeth. Sometimes I duck into the restroom to check in a mirror. This is not the self-absorption I am talking about, because I am inconsistent like that.
  3. A joyful smile shines like the best makeup you ever saw, and a whole-hearted person is lovely any way you look at her.  On the flip side, no amount of cosmetics will cover an unhappy face. You cannot paint a sour expression beautiful or color-coordinate the discontentment out of your soul.  A spirit that is not at peace just oozes out everywhere.
  4. Confidence is much more compelling than a woman who is shrinking inside herself with worry  (see 2. above ) about her weight, her hair, her flaws, and how she compares with everybody else in the immediate vicinity who is thinner, taller, shorter, blonder, more talented, etc. Elisabeth Elliot has always been one of my heroines. She had a very clear sense of purpose and she lived graciously in it. She also had a very obvious gap between her front teeth that flashed out every time she smiled. When she died, it was one of the things that people mentioned as most endearing about her.
  5. A brain is a fascinating thing; an empty head is not beautiful. Very few people like to spend time with vacuous females obsessed with selfies, shoes, boys, and bling. It is exhausting, watching the eyelid flutters and vain little airs that are supposed to be so fetching. I will confess that I have always fought an urge to stick a pin into this kind of girl. Put something worthwhile in the head: some ideas that are bigger than an Ipsy bag, some concepts that matter in the grand scheme of things, some opinions that are carefully formulated by actual thought processes, and then you start to see the woman whose worth is not tallied by the sum of her pretty features.

I have three little girls. It is a trust I take very seriously, teaching them about true beauty and values that transcend youthful charm. They are still young, sure, but I do not want them to suffer the agonies of insecurities that are a result of swallowing the idea that they are only worth as much as they are pretty.

These five things are sure-fire beauty tips that I am passing on to them. What have I missed? Do you have beautiful friends too?

 

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Bits and Bobs of Summer

August 30: I dreamed a post, brilliantly funny and true. I thought I should probably get up and write it down, but I didn’t because it was 2 AM. The title was the best part, something like “August Hits Back”, only it must not have been that because that is pretty odd. I settled instead for a title with one of my favorite British expressions, second only to “I was just chuffed to bits!” I can’t remember a single thing from the dream post except that it had something about pumping gas. There you are- you can’t trust your impressions in dreams.

I have been having so much fun! (Just chuffed!) Yes, I just said that about the craziest time of the year. It is so gorgeous in south-central Pennsylvania this year! We have not had one week of crunchy grass, hardly any sticky-hot days, and the tomatoes are out of this world! Granted, there is an element of panic about summer’s ending, for me at least. When those fall insects start droning, I squeeze a little harder to get the joy out of the days. My friend Violet called it my annual tragedy. Meanwhile Gabe gets more and more excited with every chilly, foggy morning because winter is coming! We are quite elemental here, with very strong emotions dictated by the seasons. It makes life interesting, which I think is exactly what God intended when He created a temperate zone.

We started our school classes in the first full week of August. I mentioned before that I am reclaiming my classroom this year. It felt just a little scary, because DVD instruction did help me out of a tight place where I wasn’t reaching around with the drills and flashcards, and especially the checking.  However, it was so thorough that it nearly killed me. That may be just a smidge dramatic, but I am loving having the freedom to order the school morning to my life instead of having it order me around. This is the best thing about homeschool and I have it back!

Here’s how we do it currently, with the schedule subject to tweaking as things come up: Breakfast at 8-ish, although this morning the steel-cut oats are not cooked yet, so a little later. We do Bible memory work at the breakfast table, then take about 15-30 minutes to knock out some morning chores. It often looks like this: husband either packs his lunch for work or goes to study room to work on his latest writing assignment, one boy goes to the barn to feed and water the critters, one boy starts the laundry cycle going, two girls take care of dishes, smallest girl struggles to decide what to wear and cleans up the stuff in her bedroom, one mom referees and tries not to spill her coffee.

At 9 o’clock I start our read-aloud chapter and if you dawdled with your chores, you might just miss it. It has been a great motivator for the kiddos around here that could use starting fluid in the mornings. We just finished “The Winged Watchman“, a compelling story set in WW2 Netherlands. There is a conflict between the organized resistance and loving the enemies which prompts some great conversation with children. I would hope to be the one hiding a Jewish child as part of my family, but lying about the child’s identity is a harder question. I had never read it before, so it was as fun for me as for the youngsters. When they begged for another chapter, I wanted it just as much as they did. This is what the children do while I read aloud:

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Yes, some of them do perch on those stools, because they prefer them to padded folding chairs. They wiggle and lean back and forth on one leg of the stool when the concentration is hard. Sometimes they fall off when they can’t reach a dropped pencil-  the same sort of comic relief as any school kid. Addy gets to go play for a while after reading. Her school fits in the cracks of the day, which works great because she is a child who needs concentrated bursts of mother.

We do Spelling Power first thing. I spend five minutes with each child on that, and then they spend five minutes practicing the words they missed. I love this concept; it makes spelling much less deadly for the children who struggle. Thanks to my friend Naomi for the recommendation.

The forenoon continues with a meld of arithmetic, language arts and reading practice. The two middles have arithmetic instruction that we stream, so I am still not doing fact drills. I wouldn’t mind not giving another set of flashcards, ever, but of course I will do whatever I need to do.

At this point it is usually lunchtime and everybody is clocking out because you can’t possibly retain knowledge when something as insistent as a stomach is growling. (Told you we are a bit elemental here.)

If I have been foresightful and provident, there is something in the fridge we can warm up for lunch. If not, I cook omelettes faster than I ever knew was possible, or I make a very simple pot of chicken noodle with most likely some swiss chard floating in it because we cannot seem to eat the stuff faster than it grows. Plus it is sooo pretty. Sometimes lunch is hotdogs and smoothies. Not gourmet, unless you count dicing Bell peppers for the quesadillas or serving balsamic vinegar ketchup as a condiment.

I buy huge packs of paper plates so that most times lunch is served on disposables. I don’t know what is worse, wasting trees or soap and water and energy, so I take the liberty to choose the one that makes it easier for me, like a true consumer. The same goes with grocery shopping. Taking in account all the money I save by teaching our children, not buying entire wardrobes for school, not spending on gas to transport them, I do not feel embarrassed to buy convenience foods. The thrifty side of me still protests at times, “You know, you could make bread much cheaper and better. Hey, remember that the Pioneer Woman has a great tortilla recipe? Why buy shredded cheese if you can save 20 cents a pound on the chunk? Cereal? That’s a horrible choice with all those eggs you have. Blah-blah.” I have learned to smile and wave cheerfully to that little money-saving voice and then I put the chicken nuggets in my cart.

What is most lethal? GMO’s, mechanically separated meat, a bit of food coloring, or a mom harried out of her mind with sprouting wheat and butchering organic chickens and no time to enjoy her babies? I wish I could do it all right and perfectly, find some magic bullet to seamlessly incorporate it all into the best life ever. I admire women who do this, and I hope to learn and get better at it, but I still buy microwave popcorn packs at the discount store sometimes. Just so you know.

Another thing I might mention: I really really like our principal. It’s so nice to be able to take time to discuss issues that come up, get a wider perspective when I have tunnel vision, show him the latest achievements of a child, and even flirt shamelessly sometimes.

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After lunch the middle schoolers finish up science and history assignments. They often do this during quiet time so that they can roar outside to play as soon as the noise ban is lifted.

Well. It’s September 3 now. Gabe had lunch with us before going to work, then I took a long (think 3 hour) nap this afternoon. First I read a book to Addy about where our food comes from (her choice, not mine). After the page about growing rice and before the page about dairy products, I yawned and told her I couldn’t stay awake. Now, post-coffee at suppertime, I am wide awake. We had our Sunday evening popcorn and what is also becoming tradition: homemade ice cream. (I have the easiest no-cook recipe ever. Maybe I can tell you about it someday.) Then we had bike rides and that wonderful decompressed feeling after a long day of relaxation. I am grateful for the stillness and quiet, for the renewal of rest.

I will conclude my post with cell phone photos from August, with apologies to real bloggers out there who do pretty pictures. I read this somewhere: the best camera is the one you have with you. I am afraid I wouldn’t document very much if it weren’t for the handy camera feature on my phone. I hope you can overlook the quality and enjoy the story in the captions.

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My little brother Kenny and his 3 oldest children went with us to Ag Progress Days in State College. Along one of the streets we spotted a sign that my Dad made with his fancy router machine for this landscaping company. Mom painted the letters, so we had to pose to show them how nice it looks.

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We spent eclipse day at the park with cousin-friends. This was taken when the sun was shiny again, after the weird twilight was past. We had a welding helmet and some of those NASA cereal box pinhole viewers too, so we got to see the partial eclipse.

Here we have the amount of corn the boys found when they went through the patch to pick stragglers, and then the amount I found when I went through the patch to look for stragglers they missed. They were a little miffed, but the evidence was undeniable. The last pic is Addy’s offering to me. “Here, Mama, you can share my trail mix,” she said generously. Um, yeah. I see what you did there, little girl.

 

This is an epic tea party with all the little critters and the latest doll that Olivia made. Grandma gave them each a tea set. It makes me so happy when my girls play like this. On a side note, they have a stuffed animal love that defies explanation. In recent years I have allowed them to add only miniatures to their collection, which is why you see all the tiny animals.

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This is the best book of the summer: my latest very long novel by Michael D. O’Brien. It took me months to get through it, but this book deserves its own post, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, you may notice our deck space, with chairs to lounge in while I read with my peasant feet up on a side table. We have extra chairs for friends, just so you know, and we will put drinks on the table instead of feet, should you happen to stop by.

A pleasant fall to all of you!

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