Thursday, April 28, 2016

Declutter with Barbie

Even Barbie needs to clean out her closet sometimes. After all, she's been shopping for years.

List of "33 Things To Eliminate From Your Closet" from BeMoreWithLess/Project 333.

Anything with shoulder pads, even if they are making a comeback. 
Your high school jeans that haven’t buttoned since high school. 
That formal outfit you bought for one occasion. 
Your ex-anyone’s anything. 
Christmas sweaters
Things that are ripped or have holes that aren’t supposed to be there. 
Pieces you can see through unintentionally. (see above)

Those super cute shoes that you can’t walk in. 

Sentimental items that make you sad. 
The warm coat you don't wear. Someone needs it more than you.
Sentimental items that don’t fit. Take a picture. 
Clothes you are saving for your children. 
Pieces that need to go to the tailor that never get to the tailor. 
A bridesmaid’s dress they said you could wear again, and you know you won’t. 
Hats you don’t wear even though everyone says you look good in hats. 
Ill-fitting bras. Feature your features. 
Purses. You only need one. 
Clothes that don’t belong to you. Give them back.
Anything with a weird smell that won’t wash out. 
Clothing or shoes that leave a mark or blister. 
Scarves that don’t go with anything you currently own. 
Clothes that don’t allow your underwear to be under. 
Anything you have to squeeze into. 
Clothes you bought on vacation that you won’t wear where you live. 
Pants that are shorter than they are supposed to be. 
Shirts that are longer than they are supposed to be. 
Sequins and sparkles if you prefer simple and subtle. 
Anything with a stain that won’t come out. 
Guilt items. If you spent too much for it, dump the guilt. You’ll keep paying for it in time and attention if you don’t let it go now. 
Multiples. Just because the blazer looked good in cream doesn’t mean you need it in every color. One is enough.  (unless it's shoes?)
The top or bottom of a suit. They aren’t sold separately for a reason. 
Clothes you can pet. 
Yoga pants that don’t go to yoga.

Bye-bye.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From the archives: Happiness is, happiness isn't (book review)

Edited from a post of February, 2008

Someone at church handed me a book to read called Happiness™ by Will Ferguson (Penguin Books, 2002) . I knew it was meant to be satirical; I didn't know just how much off-colour stuff I was going to have to muck through to get to the heart of it. Hip-waders would be advised.

However, I do like the premise of the book, and it did try to make some good points. It’s a novel about an (imaginary) self-help book called What I Learned On the Mountain that--astonishingly--works. And its impact (mostly negative) on the editor who discovered it and society in general. Some of the initial effects:

“People no longer felt estranged from their bodies. They felt connected. For the first time, possibly ever, Americans began to feel comfortable with who they were. Cosmetics went unsold; department stores stood half-deserted. Expensive perfumes were marked down and sat gathering dust. GQ magazine switched its emphasis from men’s fashion to articles on ‘fostering happiness.’ Dour Calvin Klein models stood on street corners holding up signs: ‘Will pout for food.’” (Happiness™)
Unfortunately, the spread of “happiness” not only begins to destroy the economy (the alcohol and tobacco market dries up alongside the cosmetics industry), but it (whatever it is) destroys people's minds and emotions as well. The editor, Edwin, comes to this conclusion:
“[It’s] a world without a soul. A world without laughter. Without real laughter. The kind that makes your heart ache and your eyes go blurry….we need our vices….because life is sad and short and over far too soon.”
One could argue that this version of happiness isn’t happiness at all, but some kind of selfish, mindless seeking after bliss. (bliss n : a state of extreme happiness [syn: blissfulness, cloud nine, seventh heaven, walking on air]) Edwin pleads for what he calls “joy” instead of “happiness.” However, you could also argue with Edwin’s definition of “joy” since it seems to be based only on celebrating the ugliness, pettiness and vices of humanity (accepting and enjoying what makes us human) rather than looking outwards from ourselves (e.g. to a supreme Being).

I hear echoes of Brave New World in this--the Noble Savage "claiming the right to be unhappy." However, Edwin isn't the Noble Savage by any means, or even Brave New World's questioning Bernard; he's a frustrated Gen-Xer who can't stand his wife, or his cat, or his boss, or his job, or the city he lives in. His only redeeming quality is that--somehow--he's one of the few people who read What I Learned On the Mountain and aren't taken in by it. This implies that he's worthy of telling the rest of us what supposedly makes life meaningful.

And I suppose he's right, in a general way. Too much seeking after "happiness" is just self-seeking and self-defeating; yes, there's something deeper out there. But I felt reluctant to accept much of his pontificating...I think you can get a just as good a read on happiness-as-human-experience in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, and without the profanity.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Things you don't want to watch in the dentist's chair

Televisions over dentists' chairs seem to be just a given thing these days (can you imagine, says one who thought dentists offering headphones and CD's a few years ago were innovative). Ours, for some reason, never seems to bother turning on the captioning, but you can usually catch enough of what's going on if the cleaning machines aren't making too much noise.

On various occasions I've watched people voting on wedding dresses, trying to decide whether to renovate or move (maybe if we just moved the doorway?), and blathering about celebrity life. I thought the most appropriate episode was a home-improvement show that demonstrated drilling into a concrete patio...while I was getting a tooth drilled.

That was until today. Today, again getting drilled and filled, I was treated to an episode of "How It's Made," featuring Statue Restoration, Tripods, Polish Sausages, and Welding Guns. I especially enjoyed the art restorer who mixed plaster with glue, and dabbled it into all the broken places on a statue of the Madonna, at approximately the same time as the dentist was mixing up whatever dentists mix up and dabbling it into my broken places. And cooking it with what didn't seem that different from a Welding Gun.

As for the Polish Sausages, we won't even go there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Calm down and laugh at the orange (but pass on the colouring)

"From knitting crazes to mindfulness training centers, Americans today will take anything they can get to escape the hum of their perceived hyper-connectivity and overwork. That demand has created a sort of mindfulness industrial complex, a sprawling, lucrative industry that peddles DIY relaxation of all kinds, from calming crafts to downloadable guided meditation, week-long silent retreats and a $150 “calmness” tracker. (""America's Obsession with Adult Coloring is a Cry for Help")
Manny, who has just accidentally eaten a copy of The Little Book of Calm, has some other suggestions:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Quote for the day: T.S. Eliot on getting older

There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

 ...Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

T.S. Eliot, from "East Coker" in Four Quartets

To read today: The Common Room on the vocabulary of good books

The Deputy Headmistress has a few well-chosen words about allowing children to climb the library shelves, so to speak.

Fashion Revolution Week: Finding a Balance

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911

The Fashion Revolution began because of a recent tragedy.  It wasn't the first one, and it won't be the last.

Who do you blame? Big businesses? Factory owners? Small consumers? Rich countries? Poor countries? People who just want to buy a pair of sweatpants?

How do you change a big, complicated mess?

Proverbs 31:8-10 (N.I.V.)
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

But how can we speak if we don't listen first?

And how will we know if we don't ask?
"Beauty is about balance, and what is sustainability if not finding a balance between the desires of our generation and the needs of the next?" ~~ "A Moral Sense of Beauty," by Carry Somers

Thursday, April 21, 2016

From the archives: Children Shouldn't Read Dead Things (LIving Books)

First posted April, 2011. Note from the original post: "The focus of this week's Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, hosted at Fisher Academy, is Living Books, and it is based on this paper that she wrote, that was later incorporated into School Education, part of her six-volume series on education."

What is to be said about living books that hasn't already been said, said often, and said well?

And yet our public libraries seem to sell off more good books than they buy; the mall bookstores, as always, have mostly glitz-for-girls and scary-for-boys; and the sold-to-schools book flier that we brought home from last weekend's homeschool meeting--well, we won't even discuss what abominations were in that one.  Homeschoolers, in a way, are lucky...the rest of the world knows about the big online booksellers, but we also know about smaller vendors who aren't embarrassed to combine Alfie and Plutarch in the same catalogue.
"Now do but send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books and you will find that it is accepted as the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving. Nothing is left but what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls the "mere brute fact."" ~~ Charlotte Mason
Dry bones, no flesh, no colour...books fresh from the morgue?  Whatever these textbooks were, as Miss Mason says in her paper, they obviously weren't the books that got Swedish schoolgirls fighting a duel about their favourite kings.  Or the books that got Marva Collins' students working literary quotes into their everyday talk:
"Once when a student told a lie in class, someone said, 'Speak the speech trippingly on thy tongue,' and another chimed in, 'The false face does hide what the false heart does know.'  If a girl was acting too flirty, the other girls would accuse her of acting like the Wife of Bath....Another time when a rubberband shot across the room, I asked Michael whether he had done it.  He said no and blamed it on Phillip, who said, 'Et tu, Michael? This was the most unkindest cut of all.'" ~~ Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin
The books are still there for the finding.  I expect that when I go to the Big Used Booksale at the end of this month, I'd be able to find multiple copies of Shakespeare plays, anthologies of poems, hundreds of paperback classics used for one class or another and then discarded.  They're getting a bit harder to find, but they're still out there....and they're "in here" too (online as e-texts).  If we're brave enough to trust our children's minds to the great thinkers, the great humorists, the great observers, then Pascal and Plutarch, Voltaire and Vermeer are easy enough to pull up, download, reserve through even a small library, or find on a used-classics shelf.

Charlotte Mason explains that yes, mathematics may help you develop your mind in a certain way; that learning Latin is certainly good for developing certain strengths, "intellectual muscle" and so on; but none of these alone are going to give you "fact clothed in living flesh, breathed into by quickening ideas."  This argument is not quite clear in the Parents' Review paper, as there appear to be a few words missing; it is clearer when you compare it with the same page from School Education:
"Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary, they do develop (if a bull may be allowed) intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue, than for their distinct value in developing certain 'faculties.'" ~~School Education, Chapter 16
But she also has a warning for those who would take even good books and grind, pre-digest, or otherwise manipulate either books or school subjects to make them work the way we think they should:
"The fault does not lie in any one of these or in any other of the disciplinary subjects, but in our indolent habit of using each of them as a sort of mechanical contrivance for turning up the soil and sowing the seed.  There is no reprieve for parents."
There's no getting out of it or around it; there are no short cuts, magic machines, or snake oil potions that can take the place of good books, well served at the right time.  And there is no magic clicker to tell you exactly what those are and when--even Charlotte Mason was chary about giving a list of the "hundred best books for the schoolroom."  She didn't want people just taking such a list and trying to plug it in, "make it work."  Now that is not the same as saying that any books are fine, including nose-picker histories and vampire romances; Miss Mason had definite opinions about good and bad books, and personally chose the best books she could find for her schools.  But it's not about the booklist, in the end; it's about awakening to the possibilities of books.
"Once she [Erika, a six-year-old student] began reading and saw what fun it was, there was no stopping her.  She became addicted to books.  If she wasn't reading one of the Judy Blume books or one from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, then she was trying out the Fables of La Fontaine or the Song of Roland.  One day, as I went around the class asking each child what new bit of knowledge he or she had learned that day, [she] said, 'I'm like Socrates*.  The only thing I know is how much I don't know.  I'm learning something new every day.'" ~~ Marva Collins' Way
*In this term's Plutarch study of Solon, we learned that Solon said the same thing. I don't know Socrates very well: did he also say he was learning something every day, or was Erika misquoted? It doesn't matter much, but I'm curious.

Backyard Nature in April (photos)

 Violets
Periwinkle
Tulips-to-be
Rhubarb
Dandelions, just a few so far
More violets.

Something to listen to: Nancy Kelly on Plutarch

If you like listening to podcasts: Liz Cottrill recently interviewed Nancy Kelly on how to teach Plutarch's Lives.

Fashion Revolution Week: Tinying Up

So far this week I've tried to include posts on both where clothes come from and where they go afterwards. But I'm the last person who should be giving any advice on the in between: what to wear and how to wear it.

Instead,  I'll pass on a piece of classic dressing wisdom from a well-put-together lady: "boring clothes" are totally fine; she likes her "boring clothes", but she gives them more character (and more usefulness) with accessories. Which sounds at first, I don't know, a bit old, like you have to have five sets of matching shoes and belts and earrings and purses to dress up your Little Whatever Dress. Like a teen doll that comes with "accessories."

But that isn't the case.

I bought a plain navy t-shirt at the thrift store, and wore it yesterday with a special silk scarf that also came from the thrift store. I dug through my jewelry and found a pair of blue bead earrings that Lydia made for me during her earring-making blitz a couple of years ago.
Here's another scarf-plus-dark-t-shirt. I was experimenting with the same scarf knot, so the only thing that's different is the scarf itself.
What does this have to do with "tiny?"

For the travel expert above, using accessories means that she can pack fewer clothes but still look good. Even if you and your clothes stay at home, a few extra extras might mean that you need one sweater instead of three, or that you can wear the same dress on more than one fancy occasion. You can wear a forgettable-colour top with a more interesting scarf or necklace. Which translates to less money spent, less clothing produced and wasted, maybe less closet space needed. Or, for some people, it means the option to buy the sweater or dress from a socially-or-ecologically-responsible company that they like but wouldn't otherwise have been able to afford. Or to buy very good yarn and knit the sweater themselves. As it says on the Project 333 home page, thinking smaller isn't meant to be a project in suffering; it's more like an opportunity for choice.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fashion Revolution Week: How Shopping Changed, and a CM Thought

Shop window on "Mr. Selfridge"

At the beginning of the first episode of "Mr. Selfridge," Harry Gordon Selfridge, in the midst of opening his own London department store, went to buy a pair of gloves at another store. He asked to see a lot of gloves all at once, which was not the way things used to be done in stores. You were supposed to know what you wanted, and have one thing handed to you at a time.The gloves clerk attempted to co-ooperate with him, but ended up losing her job over the incident. (When Selfridge found out, he hired the clerk at his own store.)

Selfridge's in the early twentieth century, as shown in the series, was something new. It was a community place, a happy place, a place where people could come to see exhibits and celebrity appearances (and buy celebrity souvenirs). When Selfridge's friend Woolworth (yes, that Woolworth) planned to open a discount store in London, Selfridge responded by offering lower-priced items in every department, so that everyone could feel part of the Selfridge's world. When the war began and Selfridge (an American) wondered what he could do to help the war effort, someone told him that he did a great deal for morale by having such a wonderful place. People cheered up just by walking in the Selfridge's door, he was assured. 
The Selfridge's experience probably isn't the one that most of us grew up with. Even in my younger days, the elegant super-stores were being replaced by malls and discount stores. I am old enough, though, to remember being "waited on" by shoe salespeople, who would measure your feet, bring shoes out from the back, even put them on you, and then try again until they and your mother were satisfied.

But the then-new concept of making shopping fun, and the mall  or store a friendly, welcoming, even seductive place: that's what has trickled down. 

I keep going back to assorted bits of wisdom that Charlotte Mason put forth on shopping, making choices, getting bargains, and patronizing local businesses. She actually said a surprising amount about those issues. Her one thought that seems to stand out here is that you shouldn't go into a store, like "Mr. Selfridge's" character Lady Loxley, and say, "I need a new wardrobe. Dazzle me."  If you know you need shoes (to paraphrase C.M.), figure out what you're looking for and what you want to pay, then go buy some. End of story. Don't obsess over the search, or over getting the best deal. Look for quality (still C.M.). Think about buying local products or at least from your own country rather than imported (still C.M.). I don't think Charlotte Mason would have supported sweatshops (and there were miserable factories all over England in her day, so it was definitely an issue then too); or, at the very least, she would have looked for ways to improve the education and health of the workers.

It's not about guilt and over-asceticism, though those can creep in. It's simply realizing that every life, every choice we make, touches so many other lives. We each have the potential to make a positive difference in our small places, even in the bigger world. We can spend our lives shopping and dressing ourselves. Or we can get on with it.