Friday, March 30, 2012

What is the point of The Hunger Games?

This post was inspired by my brother James and his wife Natalie seeing the movie “cold”. Knowing only what they saw on Facebook – all the adulation and praise from people who had already read the book and had eagerly anticipated the movie. Needless to say, they walked out disgusted and furious. Appropriately so. And I love The Hunger Games.
This first part of the post is written for those of you who can not fathom why this series has taken-off and captured the attention and affection of so many people. The premise is absolutely disturbing…so why even start? Why accept the context of a world which forces it’s children to kill each other? My simple answer is that this is what fiction requires. It is especially hard with dystopian fiction. “Dystopia: a society characterized by human misery, such as squalor, oppression, disease and dysfunction." You have to be willing to suspend reality and accept the context of a novel in order to find the themes and lessons that are hidden within. Hunger Games is not breaking new ground here. The context is ugly, what is inside that context is beautiful.
The real-world parallel (aside from the Roman gladiators which Collins so deliberately draws out) that we can easily relate to is the Holocaust. One can hardly imagine a more disturbing world to be a part of, no? But when you peer into the evil context of Hitler’s extermination camps you see great acts of human goodness, sacrifice and love: St. Maximillian Kolbe, Corrie Ten Boom, Oskar Schindler. Christians must be prepared for any context because within the worst of worlds we hold the path to redemption. We know Love.
So, the context is just that, the context. In The Hunger Games, however, the context is intended to evoke feelings of horror and disgust – it is meant to turn a mirror on our own culture in many ways. Once you have read the book come back and read the rest of this post to see what I mean.
I don’t know who Suzanne Collins is and I don’t really know what she was intending to preach and teach through these novels but I do know that the overwhelming theme that I took away was the absolute and unshakeable dignity of the human person – capable of great love and sacrifice.

The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the first book/movie.
James and and Natalie found that flippant killings and idea of the expendability of human life was being continually flung in their faces. And they were disturbed. They were particularly upset by the scene where Cato snaps the young tribute’s neck after Katniss blew up their supplies.  I was happy to hear that this upset them. It is not as clear through the movie but it is absolutely clear in the book that you are meant to be disturbed by this. While the majority of the tributes in the arena are killing and fighting for their own survival Cato represents the worst of humanity. He is more animal then human. His rage is appalling, “So people really do tear out their hair and beat the ground with their fists,” Katniss thinks (Hunger Games, Ch. 27).
He turns on the boy who is apparently responsible for setting up the booby traps and snaps his neck like a twig. Katniss’ response: “It’s that quick. The death of the boy from District 3.” Meaningless, gratuitous killing of a nameless innocent. If this doesn’t disturb you then Collins has not done her job well.
I believe that Collins is in no way trying to desensitize us to violence and evil but is instead, trying to slap us across the face so we realize that we are all, in one way or another, guilty of treating the human person with callousness and disdain. While reading the books or watching the movie you likely experienced that profound moment when you realized that you are no better then the shallow, jeering, Capitol crowds: being entertained by the depraved, the callous, the disgusting. Watching human dignity get stomped on and beaten down in  the very book you are reading. She is providing us with a mirror.
Through the violence of these thoughtless killings she is showing us that even in this imagined world of vacuous, widespread murder each and every life has dignity. We see this most obviously with Rue and her flower-laden funeral but it shines throughout the entire story because, I believe, that the point of this work is that human life has intrinsic value and dignity that cannot be stolen or killed.
There was indeed a Holocaust but Hitler did not take away one iota of the value of even one man, woman or child’s personhood. Regardless of what is done to a person – he has intrinsic value. You may kill him but, as Peeta put it in his oft-quoted conversation with Katniss, “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” (Hunger Games, ch. 10)
The parallel between the Roman gladiator games and our own obsession with reality TV is, I think, quite brilliant. Because, where are we headed? We, who tune in faithfully to The Real Housewives of (take your pick), The Kardashians, The Bachelor/ette, Hoarders, Toddlers in Tiaras, Dance Moms, and on and on. We watch as poor, broken people demean themselves and us by flaunting their dysfunction on the screen for our entertainment on Tuesday nights.
I think one of Collins’ messages to us is this: Do you see what we do? Do you see how we undervalue human dignity? Do you see how we disrespect the personhood of the human being?
Whether she intended to or not I believe that it is a short leap from being horrified at Cato’s flippant killing of the nameless boy from district 3 to being horrified at the most profoundly shaming example of our culture’s disregard for human dignity: the killing of our nameless children through the holocaust of abortion. As Katniss says for us, “Something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices it’s children’s lives...” (Mockingjay, Ch. 27)
We sacrifice our own children on the altar of our shallow desires. I say “shallow” knowing that women often have weighty things they consider before choosing abortion but what is so weighty that sacrificing our children becomes the solution? Avoiding war, perhaps? Squashing a rebellion? Is President Snow correct? Is there ever a reason that it is OK to murder a child?
Much has already been said about the theme of sacrifice and love within the novels – all of which is good, true and beautiful. I personally found Peeta to be a powerful image of Christ (in the book, much less so in the movie. A baby-faced, blond kid with an 80’s haircut was not what I had conjured up in my imagination). Keeping in mind that no analogy is perfect and that I doubt this was intended by the author and there are always multiple ways of looking at the same characters and events I will spin for you what struck me while I read the books.
Both Peeta’s tremendous love for Katniss and willingness to die for love of her - and her own frustrating inability to see that he really does love her - reflects Christ’s attitude to us and our response to him. He pursues us, woos us, dies for us – loves us faultlessly -  and our response is generally half-hearted and torn between two worlds. We can see our own blindness in Katniss – and I hate her for it.
Then there is the other side of Katniss - the other side of humanity. The side that is noble, courageous and faithful. She seeks him out, she bandages his wounds, she suffers for him. She shows us that despite our own weaknesses and blindness we are capable of great goodness, particularly when it is born out of love for Christ. And I love her for it.
The real power of love and sacrifice come more and more into focus in the second and third books and the movie doesn’t hold a candle to the book (as per the usual) but we already see great themes emerging that should grab us, hold our attention, and reflect our culture and ourselves so we can see truth more clearly. I don’t know if that constitutes a “great work of art” or “a classic” but it certainly does constitute a darn good book.

My disclaimers are at the bottom of the page.

Spoiler for the last book to follow.
Peeta remains thoroughly faithful to Katniss in spite of her many doubts and conflictions throughout all three books. He sacrifices himself repeatedly for her – always without any hesitation. Even Gale admits in the last book that, “You won her over. Gave up everything for her. Maybe that’s the only way to convince her you love her…I should have volunteered to take your place in the first Games. Protected her then.”
Gale’s love for her is very human, passionate and bitter-sweet. Peeta’s love for her is untainted, without blemish and utterly unselfish. The point at which I most saw Christ in his character was actually when the tracker-jackers had taken over his mind and turned him against Katniss. I kept thinking of Christ on the cross shouting out, “Eli, eli! Lama sabachthani?!” Christ in his humanity felt that he had been abandoned by the Father. He had been robbed of what made him who he was – the Father’s Love. And, for love of Katniss, Peeta was robbed of his very self – stripped down until he was just a shell filled with their lies. In many ways what they did to him was worse then murder, they robbed him of himself. They made him a piece in their game.
What is it that brings him back? Yet more sacrifice for Katniss – even when he has been robbed of the feelings that accompany romantic love – his love is flawless. He fights against himself in order to save her and in turn regains himself. She reminds him of his promise of fidelity to her and that is the nail in the coffin of the Capitol’s hold on Peeta. Love has conquered.
Sacrifice, born out of love, is what saves the Rebels, it’s what saves Peeta, Katniss and in the end, all that was left of humanity. And it bears great fruit in the lives of their children. Humanity is not without brokenness but what we need is, “the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.” We can always use another reminder that, because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, suffering and sacrifice are always followed by rebirth.

One thing that should be noted is that in spite of the story flowing along the lines of Judeo-Christian ethics (ethical problems included…they are presented as problems – not all solved well – but problems, none the less) there is a conspicuous absence of a “higher power”, remnants of a failed religion, or seeking anything beyond this earthly life. It is a curious omission given that even the most secular of writers must see the religious impulse of humanity, or at least history of religion in humanity, and account in some way for it. Even if it’s simply a mention that the government eradicated the country of all religious practices centuries ago…So that particular exclusion is a head-scratcher.
But much more disturbing to me is that the books and movies are being marketed to an under high-school crowd.The Hunger Games and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid should not be found side by side on the New York Times Best-seller list. I find it truly disgusting. It is, in fact, the exact prescription for creating a culture that looks like the Capitol culture. While I obviously believe there is a lot of good to be drawn from this series I also believe that we must not give our young people too much credit to be able to extract it - especially given the educational system we superintend in this country. A 12 year old is not equipped to see the messages. They are not equipped to see the irony. They are not equipped to see past the excitement of the plot. They are only equipped to be entertained by, and desensitized to, violence and the blatant disrespect of human beings. I think high-school Juniors and Seniors would be well-served by reading these books in a guided manner but seeing groups of 13 year old kids at the movie is very disturbing to me.
The Hunger Games has the power to capture the culture’s imagination and generate excellent discussions but it also has the power to destroy the innocence and sensibilities of a young person. I sincerely hope that as a culture we don’t squander and exploit the opportunity…but given our obsession with being entertained by the horrors of humanity I don’t have a lot of hope. God help us.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shopping Vignette

Yesterday we did our Costco/Aldi/Movie trip to The Big City. We generally start with a movie and then do the shopping afterwards. It’s always a bit of a rush getting out of the house on time. This time Thomas made it out without having had a lot of supervision spared on him. He was dressed in vintagey blue and white plaid fun-hop-bounce-ball-with-handleoverall-shorts, sandals, and his trusty black suit jacket. This is the same black suit jacket which I let him wear to bed last Friday night, along with the pants but without a shirt. Of any sort.
So he came down last Saturday morning into the midst of 4 woman lingering after Bible Study. And accompanying his bare chest and suit was a large plastic black cross from Anthony’s pirate costume. To make matters worse he had a bright yellow pacifier and came bouncing in on one of those balls with a handle.
He looked like a paci-wielding pimp riding a bouncy blue steed.
Today he was quite a sight at the movie theater in his cross between Southern baby and Northern CEO – desperately holding on and guarding his three pacifiers. And then at our last stop, Costco, he started pulling out fake food from all sorts of places. He must have squirrelled it away somehow/somewhere. First it was a donut that he was chucking in front of himself and running to fetch. Next was 3 plastic chicken nuggets which he kept referring to as treats. And when Rosie got her finger rolled over by the cart (don’t ask) he consoled her with a plastic piece of pizza that he had tucked away somewhere.
Thomas’ curious dress and behavior were matched only by Cecilia as she got pushed around in the baby seat of the cart – lounging sideways, head leaned up against the right side of the cart – one leg hanging off the opposite side of the cart and the other leg dangling over the handle and kicking unconcernedly as she daintily fed herself from a sample container filled with Jelly-Bellys.
Children are entertaining.

Friday, March 23, 2012

iPad Series: Home Management, Part 2

Grocery IQ
Ahhhhh…this app and I are a match made in heaven. I was already doing almost all of this with laminated lists and dry erase markers with Lucy but with Luce it is SO MUCH BETTER!!! When some people see this app they may initially find it to be over-the-top organized but generally speaking the next time they are shopping they start to wonder if maybe it isn’t a bad idea after all.
I warn you, it does take an investment of time. Frankly, almost every VERY useful app does. It’s useful because you can customize it and customizing it takes time. So I spent a few evenings preparing to use Grocery IQ and I’m absolutely certain that I’ve earned that time back ten-fold over the last 10 months.
The first thing you do is set up your stores.
Photo Mar 23, 2 40 34 PM Then you set up the name and order of the aisles in each store.
Photo Mar 23, 2 37 39 PM
You then proceed to put in your “Favorites” which is really a list of your kitchen staples. Photo Mar 23, 2 42 50 PM
Once every two weeks I stand in my kitchen and then in my basement (pantry) and go through my Favorites list marking any that I’m running low on. Notice those green dots on the right of the page under the arrow? Those indicate that I currently need those things.
But before you do that you need to add them (hence the time consuming part. You could just manually enter items for a few months and save them all as favorites and build your favorites list that way. I chose to do it before hand because I already had a list of favorites since I had just done my painstakingly detailed price comparison of Aldi and Costco).
As you enter your Favorites you have a variety of options. We will look closer at Bread as an example.
Photo Mar 23, 2 44 12 PM
When I entered this item into Favorites I indicated:
-The store at which I usually buy it
-The aisle it is located in at that store
-The quantity I usually buy
-The price that store charges for the item
Generally speaking I always enter store and aisle info as far as I can but I only enter the price when it is something that I want to easily compare when I’m out at another store. For example, I know that the regular price for Hamburger Buns at Aldi is $0.79 so when I see a 10/10 sale I can check to make sure that is actually my best price.
Once you have your favorites all set up you choose from them to create an actual shopping list. If you are going to Food Lion first then you select Food Lion from the top.
Photo Mar 23, 2 46 46 PM
This is the Food Lion-specific shopping list.
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Because I spent a lot of time on my Favorites list and indicated: a) which stores I usually buy the item from, b) which aisle the item is located in and c) the order of the aisles within that particular store, I can start at the back of the store and work towards the front and I never BACKTRACK!!! It’s like grocery store heaven.
There is also an option to add items and not assign them a store and in that case you can select “Any Store” and non-categorized items will show up there or you can have them integrated into every list.
There is also an iPhone app for this so John can get it on his phone. When we shop (once every two weeks) we split up in the store and are both looking at the same list which updates immediately when someone checks something off. A total shopping game-changer.
If you don’t have a second iDevice of some variety then you can still email the list to the spouse who is at work or out somewhere.

I have not completely converted to e-books. Being a fan of books I will pretty much read in whatever format is handed to me. I’m an equal-opportunity reader. I don’t mind storing books on my shelves (I like it most of the time) but I do love the ease and accessibility of e-books. That being said, I am a 99.5% convert to e-Recipes and e-Cookbooks. When someone wants a recipe you should only have to type it out once. Or better yet emailing it directly from a recipe site. But even BETTER than that is emailing it from your personal collection in your “recipe app”. The only time I want a non-electronic recipe or cookbook is if there are handwritten notes from a grandmother or mother or sister or aunt, etc. In that case you must keep a paper binder or recipe box for those. But that is maybe .5% of the time. Hence, I am 99.5% converted.
This recipe-storing app is the best that I’ve come across. My top reason is the ease of uploading a recipe from the web. I’ll just start there. All of the larger recipe sites (Big Oven, All Recipes, Martha Stewart, etc.) it is simply the touch of a button, “Save this Recipe”. But what about those smaller sites? It is also very easy to get those recipes with Paprika’s “capture” option because the app has a built-in web-browser. Most other recipe apps require you to bounce back and forth between the internet and the app to copy and paste.
Photo Mar 23, 3 40 00 PM All you need to do is go through Paprika’s browser (very bottom of the screen) and put in the url of the site you want. When it comes up you just “copy” one section and then press the corresponding section on the app’s browser. When you have completed this you press, “Create Recipe” and you have…
Photo Mar 23, 3 38 42 PM
It puts it into the template that it uses for all it’s recipes so it becomes very simple to use. I love that you can add notes that you may get from a review online or just something you want to remember from personal experience.
Photo Mar 23, 3 36 43 PM
This is your personal recipe collection. Once you’ve added some recipes you can search by name, use the categories (tags) on the side – although you have to indicate within the recipe what you want to tag it as), or just scroll through your alphabetical list.
Take a look at the blue arrows in the screen above to see what you can do to each recipe from this view.
Here’s a view of the meal planning/grocery function. I think it’s quite well done, although I don’t use it very often because I prefer to have my meals on my master calendar and I prefer Grocery IQ as a shopping list. But the simplicity of this is appealing and I can imagine someone being perfectly satisfied with it.
You add meals to certain days and then add that day’s recipe ingredients to a master grocery list within the Paprika app.
You can also add a meal that is not in your recipe list that you know you want to make on a certain day. For example, I do not have my pancake recipe in here because that falls into the .5% of recipes that was the original handwritten one from my mom that I learned to cook pancakes with over 20 years ago. That one I would never go digital with. But, I may still want to enter it into my meal plan for the week and this app lets you do that.
The screen below shows that I have chosen the make Spinach and Artichoke Baked Pasta on Wednesday. I can now add all of those ingredients to my Paprika grocery shopping list.Photo Mar 23, 3 41 51 PM

You can choose to not include ingredients that you already have at home (really, who needs “5.5 cups of flour” on their grocery list?).
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On the left side of the screen below you can see all of the recipes that are included on this grocery list. The grocery list itself is a consolidated list of the ingredients from the chosen recipes. You can also add ingredients that are not in any of your chosen recipes but that you need anyway, making it possible for this app to be the only grocery-shopping list that you need.Photo Mar 23, 3 44 52 PM
There is also a cooking timer included in the app, a nice little touch.
With the combination of my bank’s app for the iPad and I have gained a whole new perspective and discipline with money ( is another web-based free service from the folks who write TurboTax and Quicken). The new perspective comes from seeing everything laid out in one place. You enter in every account you have from checking/saving to college saving to mortgage to credit cards to IRAs and then it gives you your net worth and keeps you up-to-date. That is a new thing for me since John was the big picture money manager and I was the nitty-gritty “Walmart-money” manager. And not really a great one, for that matter.

Photo Mar 23, 1 56 56 PMIn the screen above, at the bottom right-hand corner is what John was used to knowing about and what I was clueless about, a list of all of our accounts. Up in the right-hand corner you see the total spent for the month so far.  Most people probably keep decent track of that information anyway, but this is pur-dee. The graph in the middle is what I find particularly helpful.
Mint automatically categorizes your purchases (and does it pretty well, actually) and when it does something wrong it is very simple to correct it.
You can tap a category on the pie graph to see further details.  We will choose Food and Dining as an example.
Photo Mar 23, 1 50 07 PM

In the top right-hand corner it shows me the money I’ve spent in this category for the month so far.  I can now look at specific transactions to further investigate where my money is going to. It’s really an excellent visual.
I’ll choose one other category as an example: “Home”.
Photo Mar 23, 1 40 56 PM

Mint sent me an alert earlier this month telling me that I had spend 60% more in Home this month then I usually do. Well that was interesting. I though I should probably figure out why. So I clicked on the “See Details” section to break it down further.
Photo Mar 23, 1 48 46 PM

And when I look closer I saw that it was because we had new gutters installed. OK, so, there you go.
You can also choose to look at any individual category over the course of several months. So here we will look at my Home category from January-March to get a better idea of what our spending actually looks like on average.
Photo Mar 23, 2 17 08 PM

It also shows you your top spending categories, uses bar graphs for total spending or net income over the course of the year, and sends you alerts when something unusual happens in one your accounts.
There is a budget function that I choose not to utilize but it alerts you when you are close to going over budget in a particular category, and it is very easy to set up.
We use Mint for the big picture most of the time. For our month to month budget and we use PNC’s program, “Virtual Wallet”. We LOVE virtual wallet – sadly their app is way under par but we just go online through the iPad.
My favorite function is the “Wishlist” – which is housed in your savings account and you can divide into different categories. We have used it to save up for the aforesaid gutters, the iPad, the swingset, etc. I “feel” much more committed to saving for a specific item when I can see the total going up and the money is not all just sitting in one big pot. It’s psychological but for me money management is very much a head-game.
There are lots of demonstrations online of the Virtual Wallet so if you are interested in that then check it out.

OK, that’s all for now. I’m actually frightened to turn around from my desk and look at the house-damage. I definitely heard some loud whispering behind me, “Shhhh! Don’t bang the door, mommy will hear us!” and I’m ashamed to say that was about an hour ago and here I sit. Maybe I should just keep going so I don’t need to face the music. There’s always a price to pay…they are exacting task-masters.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Announcement via Pinterest

For those of you who have a Pinterest account and have been suspicious based on my last dozen or so pins.

I thought I would pay you the courtesy of confirming what you have already deduced…
We are adding a Lovelette to the galloping hoard!
We are so looking forward to bringing a new person into Love Life! Although we are more aware then ever of the blood, sweat and tears that a baby brings we are also more aware then ever of the joy, sweetness and DELIGHT they bring. We are all looking forward to having our hearts stretched even more to make room for a fifth baby.
We are tremendously grateful to the Lord for this blessing and all of our little blessings. We continue to be awed by His goodness and how He lets us participate in it through parenthood and family life. We are profoundly thankful.

Friday, March 16, 2012

iPad Series: Home Management, part 1

First I will do the things that everyone already has in one form or other: a calendar, to-do list, routines. It might seem less then thrilling, even humdrum but this is really the heart of how the iPad has revolutionized my life. It’s not that I didn’t have these things before…I most certainly did. I had a planner named Lucy, I had a color coded calendar, laminated grocery and packing lists, organized to-do lists. It’s not the existence of these things that are revolutionary, it’s the ease and the automation that amazing. The iPad’s name is Luce – the fancy version.

Let’s start with the most obvious one, the calendar. The heart of the home may be the kitchen but the heart of a mom, well, this mom, is her calendar.
1. You can sync with any existing digital calendar you may use currently: Google Calendar (although not the Tasks portion), iCal, Outlook, etc.
2. You may, of course have many different calendars which you can turn on and off from view. Here are examples of the ways that I use the sub-calendars on my main calendar.
*I find it works best for me to put my meal plans right onto my regular calendar, that way I don’t schedule a meal for a day that we are out in the evening or suchlike.
*I also like to have all the Holy Days on the main calendar [as an aside - in the “notes” section of that “event”, (ie. “Feast of St. Patrick”) I plan on putting a list of resources that I have on that saint and also links to craft or recipes that I’ve gathered. I am also going to put an alert on that day so I will get notified a couple days before hand that it is coming up, giving me time to prepare something].
*I have all birthdays and I have them repeat every year – once entered, always entered.
But being able to turn off all of these calendars is important to. When I am standing at the doctors office trying to schedule appointments all I want to see is John’s work schedule, my “regular” schedule and my “one-time events” schedule. All the rest is clutter and confusion in that circumstance.

 Photo Mar 16, 8 23 27 PM
Here are mine.
3. There are many different views, as you might imagine, the Daily view:
Photo Mar 16, 2 34 22 PM

The Weekly view:

Photo Mar 16, 2 34 07 PM

You can see my purple menu plan at the top. My red-ish “task”, my green “regular activities”, John’s blue work activities, my salmon colored “one-time” activities and the yellow “holy days”. You can also see the horizontal line that shows you at what time of the day you are at and the blue highlight of the day that you are on.

And there are also Monthly, Annual and List views which I personally find less helpful but whatever floats your calendar-boat.

4. You can drag and drop any event just by touching the screen. So, say a meeting gets changed (as I had one change 3 times last week) there is no erasing or deleting or retyping – you just drag it to its new home.

5. Flipping from day to day or week to week or month to month and even year to year is quick and not cumbersome…it’s actually quite pretty.
Photo Mar 16, 2 35 23 PM

6. Last cool thing is that when I open my email (I sync my Gmail to the iPad native “Mail” app – “native” means that it comes with the iPad) if there is a date or date and time or even the word “tonight”, it will highlight it and give you the option to view it in the calendar to see if you are free that day and time or even just make a calendar event from your email. That was a real “Duuuudddddeee” moment for me. Well, that was after I got really still and wondered who was watching me and how much they knew…computers are super creepy these days. But also super cool.
Moving right along…

To-Do List

1. I have switched to Toodledo, which is a free web-based service. You don’t need an iPad to use it but unless you want to haul around your laptop I can’t see it being very practical without a mobile-device. It is compatible with the “Get Things Done” system of task-management, if you are into that sort of thing. Here is how I use it. I sort my tasks into “contexts” first, and “folders” second. The “context” designation I use for the realm of my life that it falls in. Here are my contexts:
Are You OnLine (web based chores)
BAA or “Be An Adult-procrastination inducing task”
BAF or “Be A Friend” – some people are so bad at communicating with people they care about that they need an actual category on their to-do list. Sad but true.
Big City List – errands to run and items to buy when I decide to venture out of the Burg.
Co-op/ARCH – Homeschool group stuff
ECHO/St. Joes – Other homeschool group and parish work
Home Maintenance
Home Projects
Mother’s Night Out (errands or tasks to do without children around)
Weekly Cleaning

So when I think of a task - I’ll use my “hang sheets in the basement” as my example – when I think of “hang sheets in the basement” (could I have picked a weirder task?) I assign it a context, in this case it is Home Projects. If it is part of a single, large project then I will assign it a folder too – in this case, “Basement jobs”. Photo Mar 16, 9 16 26 PM

And that task hangs out there until such time that it becomes a crisis and then I change it’s “context” from “Home Projects” to “Today”. See here:
Photo Mar 16, 9 45 11 PM
And then I gold-star the ones that are really really in crisis.

Now go back to referencing the first picture…
2. You can also make “notes” onto any folder or context in the Notebook. That is handy for measurements for projects that you are doing or addresses, or websites you need, etc..
3. Alerts – you can set an alert for a particular date and time but you can even associate a particular context with a particular location. So I have Lowes associated with my Home Projects Context and it will alert me when I am within a couple miles of the store if I have a task that requires a trip to Lowes. Crazy.

Home Routines
1. I use this app for the daily tasks that I don’t want cluttering my real to-do list. If you are familiar with Flylady principles then this app will fit like a glove.
Photo Mar 16, 9 53 03 PM

You have your routines (all completely customizable and however many you want). It resets automatically every day and you can set reminders to go off.
It’s got a built-in to-do list that I do not utilize, as you may imagine. That would just be too much of a good thing.
You have the choice to break your home down into zones (up to 7 of them) and there is even a timer so you can set it and work in your zone for 15 minutes (or whatever you set it to). For more on these ideas just visit Flylady herself – no need for me to rehash here.

And behold, we have arrived at the ubiquitous Evernote…deep breath…here we go.
This is another web-based service with an app. The premise is that you have different “notebooks”, essentially folders and you can clip webpages, copy and paste things, attach picture, even record your own voice, and, of course, tag each note.
I’ll show you my categories and how I use each of them.
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1. Correspondence
I think it is a shame that we don’t catalogue emails and save them the ways we would hand-written letters. Not all of them, of course, but those epic-long catch up emails with long distance friends, for example, should be cherished. Evernote provides you with your own Evernote email address so you can just “forward” into your Evernote Notebook anything that comes from your email.
2. Home and Garden
This is my favorite way to use Evernote. Two main things I’ve come up with…
The first is tracking my garden. Just take a picture with your iPad. Open the secondary Evernote app called Evernote “Skitch” and annotate using that. Type up a summary of your activity that day and voila! Just yesterday I went to plant a new perennial but I couldn’t remember how far the mums come down in the garden and since they’re not up yet this spring I was able to reference this picture. Perfect.

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My second favorite idea for Evernote is the “Toy Library”. After fighting a losing toys v. order battle for 7 years John and I launched the D-day of toy storage the week before Christmas. We sorted all the toys, took pictures of each type, and then – literally – boxed them all up and put them under lock and key. John said that he felt a little Grinch-y putting padlocks up on all the toys. I had no such qualms.
The kids always have dress-up clothes and trains out. Other then that each kid is allowed to have out one type of toy at a time. They can switch it out every few days. It has been wildly successful. The kids LOVE it. Seriously…not one complaint in 4 months. It was frankly just too much crap to sort through, way over-stimulating and overwhelming, for everyone. So they just fought and dumped. And dumped and fought. Now they play. No, I’m not joking. I've noticed that if they don’t have a toy out but want to play a game that would utilize it they just take whatever they do have out and pretend. Rosie had “tools” out the other day but she was playing house. Instead of asking to switch toys to the play food she just pretended that the hammer was a banana, the saw was a pancake, etc..
So here’s where the iPad connection comes in.
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They just scroll through Evernote and decide what toy they want. It’s awesome possum.

3. Family Journal
I type or record myself speaking about little things that happen or activities that we do. Things that are not blog-worthy but are memory-worthy. We can attach pictures or recordings of the kids saying cute things in their cute voices, etc..
Less sentimental but quite practical is my “don’t reinvent the wheel” notes. After a rough start to vacation I wrote down all the things to avoid next time. At Christmas I took pictures of all of the decorations and where they go because I had just spent DAYS trying to sort out what was bought for which space. Hopefully next Christmas will be smoother with the visual references.
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4. Magazine clippings. Or webpages. A private Pinterest, of sorts. I was reading Better Homes and Gardens on the iPad (the digital version of magazines is much better – interactive and videos – all over much better) and I saw something that I liked so I took a screen shot and opened it up in the aforementioned Evernote Skitch and used it to point to the things in the image that I liked. The burlap pillow and burlap curtains. The pink arrows and words are what I added.
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Better then Pinterest.

5. Quotations
6. Recipes. I have a separate Recipe app which I will go over later but if I’m on the go and I see a recipe in a friend’s cookbook I’ll just snap a picture of it and store it here until I have time to put it in the app.
7. School. I use it as a journal for our fieldtrips, science projects but best of all I can have Anthony do his narrations (summaries) of his reading with the recorder. He thinks it’s very cool. I’m trying to come up with a way to keep a history timeline in here. I haven’t quite cracked that code yet though. It’s great for taking notes at conferences or retreats.
8. Also school related – this would be great for non-homeschoolers too – You can use another secondary Evernote app, called Evernote Peek to do flashcards. Just typing if you want but I use it for Spanish so I type the Spanish word and record myself saying it and then type the answer. When you add that notebook to Evernote Peek it functions as audio/visual flashcards. You lift the Apple “smart cover” if you have it, or the digital one they provide otherwise.
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9. It’s all searchable. Very easy to find that thing you read last week…
The thing about Evernote is that you can apply it in so so so many ways.

The last thing I will do today is SimpleMind. I have just discovered “mind mapping”. I only use it when I am trying to wrap my mind around a multifaceted project, like planning for the next homeschool year or a long-distance trip to a wedding – anything that is paralyzingly complicated and thus overwhelming. This is the app if you are not yet to the point of being able to handle something with linear to-do lists.
For example…late November The Holiday Panic set in and I mapped out my fears. It was both calming and exhilarating. Mainly it helped me wrap my mind around it in a way a traditional linear list couldn’t have handled. Here’s the simple version:
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I can collapse any of the categories and open them only as I need. This next screen shot is every category expanded and it is also the reason that I was paralyzingly overwhelmed.
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As you can see you can color code, use symbols – turn certain things into to-dos – link to other mind maps (this map linked to a map for the gifts I had planned for everyone). I do wish it had an option to turn the to-dos into a linear list automatically. If anyone knows of a mind-mapping app that does that please let me know!

Oh my gosh. I am so tired now. And that is only 5 of the 18 apps I wanted to go over for Home Management. This may take longer then I expected. But at least that gets things started. Next up on the list is grocery lists, recipe collections, banking, contacts, packing lists, document storage and creating/editing documents, shopping, and gardens. Eventually.

See you later, I’m off to watch stupid TV now.

iPad Series

I will be writing a series extolling the great and varied virtues and uses of the iPad in my life. I will use the organizational structure that Holly Pierlot used in her book “Mother’s Rule of Life”: Prayer, Person, Partner, Parenting, Provider. Only, I will combine Personal and Partner into one category and since I’ve already written a post about the iPad being used in homeschooling that will be broken out from the Parenting Category as a very large subcategory. The homeschooling post needs a serious overhaul anyway because I’ve learned so much more since then. I will update it at the end of this series. Instead of following this list in order of importance I will follow it in the order of the iPads usefulness in a given category so we will proceed thus:
1. Provider/Home Management
Part 1 - Calendar, Toodledo, Home Routines, Evernote, SimpleMind
Part 2 - Grocery IQ, Paprika,

2. Parenting/Homeschooling

3. Prayer

4. Personal/Partner

The reason I’m choosing to spend time on this is simply that I think the iPad is so much more then a “gadget”. We are not gadget people…we have never owned a iPod, a smartphone, a video game system, a DS, or even a flat screen TV. My kids do watch limited PBS shows for my own convenience…not because I think it’s good for them educationally. My iPad has two games on it…Crosswords and Tetris…both for me on vacation. Since we educate in a Charlotte Mason inspired way our kids read or are outside playing – any “educational games” are played once or twice a week and as a reward (and I should add have been REMARKABLY effective as drills – in spite of my dubiousness). I’d say we are fairly unplugged. And still, the iPad has become an essential part of the way I organize my life.
When I hear people talk about iPads as gaming consoles or fancy e-readers it bugs me because that is a luxury that I would be embarrassed to be indulging in. So…I would like to show those of you who are in a similar position to me - financially secure but not with a lot of disposable income; mom's who are juggling a lot of different areas of life; those responsible for the education of children – both fulltime and moms who teach after school hours; and those who are suspicious of the electronic cocoon that seems to envelope the modern world - I would like to show you how the iPad can be used to streamline your life and enrich it.

I am a convert and I have that “convert zeal”. Most of you probably already appreciated gadgets and their role in your life but I have always been resentful of their intrusion so this is my amends. I hope that it is useful to you in either deciding whether or not to digitize your life or simply putting to better use the tools that you already have. And if anyone has other tips and helpful information about apps or how to use them please comment and share! There’s a whole world out there to navigate and most of it is done by word of mouth. OK, on the the series…