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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Tech-ratary: Using technology to track and tackle chores

The tech-ratary.  Too much?  I cringe even writing it.  But you know I have an embarrassing/borderline obsessive fondness for word play.

First, my necessary preamble: On this blog, I talk a lot about the seeming contradictions in my experience as a twenty-first century "liberated" woman. I identify with many feminist principles--I want equal pay and not to be held to an unrealistic standard for beauty that demands a certain kind of perfection--but I also want a clean house and cute dresses.  Many in my generation, I believe, are trying to hold the two impulses together, and I want to share both: the progressive and nostalgic leanings, the serious and the superficial.

Today, the topic falls somewhere in between.  I do think it's important to keep a clean home--it is inviting to guests and keeps us healthier--but, as we've established, I don't much enjoy it.  And I have the hardest time tracking when to do what chores.  Dishes?  Easy.  Do them after you use them?  Making the bed?  Every day.  Done.  But what about dusting?  Wiping down baseboards?  Mopping?  These not-everyday chores tend to build up, and I put them off and forget to do them.

Enter Wunderlist.

Now, I know many people are not as app-happy as I am, and a pen and paper could work just as well for tracking many of the things apps do.  But I hate keeping up with paper and managing its associated clutter, and, whereas I can lose scraps of paper or leave them in the wrong places, I always have my phone on me, which makes electronic lists a winner in my book.

There are many to-do lists apps out there, and I have tried several, but I prefer Wunderlist for several reasons:
  • sleek, easy to read interface (for both phone and desktop, which I find often is not the case for apps)
  • ability to share a list
  • ability to assign others tasks
  • ability to establish recurring tasks
  • automatic saving of completed tasks, making it easy to re-add those tasks to a list in the future

What chore charts and paper lists can't do is easily set strange recurring timetables (I wipe baseboards every other week, and I wash our door mats once a month) and reproduce a different combination of a completed list.  For grocery shopping, we scan our completed items and re-add ingredients and staples when we need them again.  

Dan and I split up our chores and assign certain tasks to each other.  An email can be sent whenever a chore is assigned as a friendly reminder.  And the overdue and current to-do items always show up in the apps inbox.  Until you check the box to complete the task, angry red numbers with an expired date will mock you until you do the chore.

You can add as many lists as your heart desires, and I have other lists always running (e.g., blog post ideas, work items, movies to watch). 

Deadlines hold me accountable, and breaking my lofty aspirations into small, frequent projects make me far more likely to stick to them.  An app like Wunderlist won't do the work for me, but it will prompt me, and external nudges are never a bad thing.

Any other great system (tech or non-tech) for tracking and tackling chores that I should know about?  Or  is it easier just to be resigned to dirty floors?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Silent driving

morning drive
No, it's not a great picture, but that's how my morning drive really looks.

I almost always listen to podcasts when I am driving in the car by myself.  Not music playlists or the radio, which never keep me fully engaged, but podcasts.  Except on Sunday mornings, that is, when I seem to have fallen into a different routine.  On these early mornings on my way to work, I listen to nothing.

Actually, that is not quite right.  I do listen to something: to the sounds of birds signaling for food, the faint stirrings of wildlife in the wooded areas flanking the back streets into Washington, the rumblings of the few cars that are on the road at such an ungodly (no pun intended) weekend hour.  Instead of the typical maddening weekday commuting chaos, with bumper-to-bumper traffic, stressed and angry drivers, and absurd amounts of noise pollution, there is calm.  I know that I am not alone, but it practically feels that way.  It is like I have a special secret all my own.  I am awake and aware of what most of the world is not yet.

I receive these mornings as small gifts, moments of respite, that remind me how small I really am.  Sometimes these humbling moments come to us in nature--on the mountain top, in the vast waters of the ocean--but sometimes they interrupt our daily rhythms.  I know enough by now to recognize that if I opt not to play the music on my way to work on Sunday, I am inviting disruption, a call to recenter myself.  These silent drives have the added benefit of convincing me that I can endure another week in the crowded disaster that is the greater Washington DC area, but mostly they re-awaken me to God.  

God is in flowers and church liturgies and poetry and doctors, in that which is profound and beautiful, but God also is in the ugly and mundane.  It is in my tired seven-year-old Honda Civic amid garish neon traffic cones that I confess my moments of shame from the week before.  I recall the unkind things I said to my husband Dan, the jealous feelings that bubbled forth when I learned of a colleague's recent professional achievement, the dismissive glance I gave to the man on the street asking for food, my desire to remain forever oblivious to the sin and evil present within the world and instead focus on the really important stuff like pumpkin-spiced baked goods.  I give these shortcomings over to God.

And I remember too the blessings showered upon me: the delicious writing of a new-found author, the support of my seminary, an unexpected dinner with a friend, and the times our legislative bodies get it right.

And I pray.  At times I pray for specific people or events or concerns but more often than not, my prayers end with my pleading that when I look at the traffic cones or hear the sounds of the world coming to on lazy (and not-so-lazy) mornings, I remember that I am not alone, that there is much, much more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Planes and the peanut problem: On pleasing everyone and pleasing no one

southwest peanuts packaged

I flew Southwest last week, which meant that I received peanuts for an in-flight snack.  Each time I fly this airline now, I wonder if it will be the last time they hand out the tasty legume.  In this age of prolific allergies--peanuts particularly--why do they insist on keeping the popular snack dating back to the early days of flying?

It cannot be for the sake of tradition.  Plenty of things airlines do now were not done fifty--even ten--years ago.  We pay to check bags and to secure "premium" seats, we touch our seatmates if we so much as move our pinky finger, and we don't light up cigarettes to celebrate our takeoff.  Change is inevitable, and the airlines don't seem to have a problem with it.

It cannot be because of money.  Peanuts are a relatively cheap snack choice, but so are pretzels and cookies, the preferred treats of other airlines.  Flour, water, sugar, and oil are inexpensive to process into small nibbles.

It cannot be in order to please everyone.  Parents of peanut-intolerant children worry about the seatmate who gobbles down peanuts next to their child on the plane and wonder whether flying Southwest and saving a few dollars is worth the risk of peanut exposure, subsequent epi-pen objections, in-flight emergencies, and hospital visits (I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out the recent science on allergic reaction triggers, which, in the case of peanuts, questions whether airborne particles alone can evoke a reaction).  On the other hand, those fed up with our allergy-obsessed society celebrate Southwest's cavalier rebuke of our (over)reactive society. (If you call ahead to report a severe allergy, Southwest will make accommodations, but the airline's default is to serve peanuts).

But no matter what Southwest does, Southwest will never win.  I admit that I am always annoyed when I fly other airlines and receive only a paltry bag of pretzels.  I am not a pretzel fan, and I would prefer something more substantive and nutritious than simple carbohydrates to hold me over to landing.  Then again, I don't have allergies.  I imagine many would make the argument that, given the danger involved, the crowd should act in the interest of those with the most to lose, and the airlines should not carry peanuts on board.

The peanut problem of course cuts deeper than airlines--it surfaces everywhere from school lunchrooms to friends' houses and restaurant kitchens.  But what interests me here is not peanuts per se but the inevitability of angering or upsetting or alienating at least someone.  No amount of nuance or accommodation ever seems to work for everyone.

So maybe that has been Southwest's logic from the get-go.  If we can't win them all, why go through the pretense of trying?  

Do you think that it is impossible to find a solution to please everyone?  Should we bother trying?

Friday, October 17, 2014

In defense of millennials: Why the church--and the world--needs the Entitlement Generation

I was invited to speak at my church last night.  One of my fascinations--okay, borderline obsessions--is the place of millennials in today's society.  Here are some reflections I shared on why millennials are not all bad, and how I hope our church and world will respond to some of my generation's insights. 

Life’s messy.  This might be my lesson in life, or at least for this decade.  Life's messy, but that’s okay. What insight do I have to tell about the experience of life, when I have barely lived a quarter of it? I can’t tell you all of my life's high and low points yet, or my regrets, or all the things that I wish I had known, but I can tell you about being a millennial and how my generation has its own insight to offer.

I know that millennials get a lot of grief: we’re entitled and flaky and addicted to technology and lazy and lack a moral compass. We’re too forthcoming with sex and we don’t really know how to work and we rely too much on our parents. This all may be true, but we bring some of our own gifts to the table, too, and I think that these gifts help make a bit of sense of my story so far.

We millennials, we’re kind of disillusioned. We’ve heard that we can have it all, and sooner or later, we all discover that we can’t. I think so much of the dream has been framed in terms of perfection: it’s about having the perfect house and perfect family and perfect job and perfect work-life balance. But life is full of trade-offs, and maybe my generation, with our instantaneous awareness of the bombs shooting off halfway around the globe and our unpaid internships and our appreciation of the pluralistic nature of our society--and the oppression inherent to its makeup--gets that in a really profound way.

What excites me, though, about being a twenty-something right now, is the possibilities I see open around me. No, I can’t have it all, but I can be creative in choosing what I want. I’m entering a field where jobs and paychecks are dwindling, but instead of viewing the reality that I may need a second job to support myself as a tragedy, I can see it as an opportunity. That is how the church began, after all. In the first and second centuries, priests and deacons and presbyters had other roles out in the world. Porous boundaries are not a bad thing. Moving back and forth between the parish and the publishing house or hospital or non-profit organization or whatever my be the case makes a lot of sense.

My generation craves depth and meaning. Part of the reason why we don’t want to pin ourselves down to 8 to 5 jobs is because we want not to be slaves to appearances but pursue what matters. Sometimes inspiration may strike at 10pm, and in the age of the internet and telecommuting, it might easily be possible to deliver our best work. Again, the boundaries between work and personal, office and home are becoming increasingly fuzzy--which has its problems, yes, but also has benefits. Work that fulfills us--and does not simply pay the bills--is what we want.

And when it comes to faith, denominational label has little to do with where we will place our allegiance. We want to find a church home that has substance and truth rather than rules and dogma. For us, it’s not so much about believing the right things as doing the right things--like serving the neighborhood and being kind instead of passing judgment. Churches that are places of acceptance and love and hospitality are much more inviting than churches that are about boundary-drawing and orthodoxy and rigidity.

I say all of this because I want to explain where I come from and why I feel the need to break the rules. I give details about the many times I have screwed up or felt despondent or doubted not to overshare but to pass along the gift I believe I can offer, that I believe millennials can offer, one which I believe the whole church, in fact, can offer. I cannot offer a ten-step plan for stewardship or service or how to grow the church, but I can testify to how messy this world is, and how my hope is in God to use it all. I can talk about how much it has hurt to be crushed, how I have felt ashamed and embarrassed sometimes, and how I brace myself for when it will happen again.

But I can also talk about the light that has broken through the darkness, how beauty can emerge from the mess. I don’t believe that God gave my dad cancer or killed my husband Dan’s parents in a plane crash, but I do believe God was present in the casseroles and doctors and hugs and tears of loved ones. I don’t know if God wanted me to be a priest all along instead of a professor, and if I simply ignored the call, or if God changed God’s mind too, but I know that my experiences as a religious scholar at Vanderbilt will make me a better priest. And I am not sure whether the decline of the Episcopal church (and the church as a whole) is God’s rally for us to toughen up, but I am sure that the church needs to begin to realize that its influence extends far beyond the bodies who are in the pews, and that its purpose is the building of a better creation, not capital campaigns.

Glennon Melton is an author and blogger at the popular website Momastery. I bet many of you have read it. She talks about how life is brutiful--equal parts broken and beautiful. I love that, but if I put my own words to my experience, I might describe life as a beautiful mess. Still messy, not perfect, but beautiful nonetheless.

That’s the eternal question: How do you make beauty out of life’s mess?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On my nightstand: October edition

Apparently I have books on my mind right now, but for the bibliophiles out there, I have another book post.  Here's a look at what I've been reading this month.  To see more of what I've been reading or to trade book recommendations, follow me on Goodreads.  I'd love to hear about any recent literary gems you've found (or books that I shouldn't waste my time reading)!

The Smart Swarm
I wanted to love this book, but I didn't.  It combined many of my loves--biology, anthropology, and sociology--but fell flat.  Perhaps because the examples of human swarms in comparison to the commentary on animal behavior proved lackluster, perhaps because the conclusions drawn at the end were just too general...for whatever reason, this book did not capture me as I thought it would.

Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough
Lori Gottlieb is herself single at forty-one and questions why she cannot find a suitable mate.  Her adventures with speed dating and matchmaking lead her to the conclusion that she had been too choosy in her earlier years, waiting for the "perfect" man who would never come.  At once humorous, truthful, and wistful, this memoir affirmed some of my beliefs about marriage being a good thing, but not everything.  (It also kind of reminded me of this Times article, and surprise, surprise, Gottlieb wrote it!)

The Goldfinch
Not for me.  Does anyone else feel that lately drugs+art+tragedy=critically acclaimed hit?  I'll offer the caveat that I am not much of a fiction reader, but I found the novel dark and depressing often simply for the sake of being dark and depressing.  The plot line dragged and the story culminated in a conclusion far too tidy and incongruous with the rest of the book.
Complicated and imperfect, a perfect testament to our post-colonial and postmodern world.  Some of the book's content is quite mundane and recounts the daily routine's of the book's characters.  But I caught myself sucking my breath in at some apt observations, like how black American women are always said to be "strong black women," never any other descriptor.  With precision and insight, Adichie gets stereotypes.  I find myself reflecting on her observations well after putting the book down.
The 4-Hour Body
I HATED Tim Ferriss's The 4-hour Work Week but surprisingly enjoyed this. I wouldn't necessarily follow his advice but enjoy Ferriss's perspective--he views things from a unique angle and always looks for a better hack for doing the necessary parts of life--in this case, staying fit and, well, having good sex (so be forewarned about the less-than-G-rated content in these pages). Minimum effective dose, indeed.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line
This book, of course, is more about entertainment than great prose.  The characters came across as flat, but I've never watched the TV series or movie, so the book may assume an audience of devoted fans.  Nothing special, but it does offer the complete thriller package of kidnapping and ransom, murder, wild beach parties, long-lost family members, and drug scandals.

I'm linking up to Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature (a monthly book review linkup).  To see more book reviews, head over to the site!


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