Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Poem: Invitation

Invitation
by Cherri Porter

She offered beer and my dad 
rested at her table 
listened to her tell Don’s death.

Eleven and alit on a folding stool
I offered a prayer of my stillness.

She told how she wrested
the rigid body over the tub wall
and made me close my ears
to whisper how she stuffed
his hemorrhoids back in, how

January held its icy breath all day
and paramedics fumbled the gurney
down the steep, slicked stairs, stairs

liquor store delivery men climbed
depositing 10oz Pepsi’s and Old Milwaukee’s
redeeming the crates of empties, stairs
from which my sister and I swept leaves
into the same tempests we swept our own.

She wanted me to close my ears
but I didn't know what hemorrhoids were
and all I remembered about Don
was the television dialed to Wheel of Fortune
his pulpy squawk, a porch keeping
summer’s time by record player,
waves “hiya,” and beers for all.

In the front room we arced wide
around his tweed chair as she exhumed
one petrified candy each
from beaded milk glass
children were not to touch.

More insistent than proximity’s unclasped sash
is death’s teeming wreath
which had yet to becrown me
for which I had only to wait

for grief to devour
for knowing to perforate
that viscid membrane of girlhood
when surely I would partake
in the briny nectar
of life’s most catching refrain.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Teaching Parable of The Sower by Octavia Butler

I'm teaching Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler for the first time in Spring 2017. I've been putting together some materials for my students, and thought I would post them here in case others teaching this novel could use them. If you find errors have have additions to suggest, please email me at wordyporter [at] gmail.com.



Discussion Questions for Parable of the Sower

Definitions of Dystopia and Apocalypse

Biblical Intertextuality in the novel

Sources for studying Parable of the Sower

#parableofthesower #octaviabutler #dystopianfuture




Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Organizing: Kids and Stuff, Part Two

This is the second post in a response to an Ask Cherri question about dealing with kids’ stuff. In the first post I addressed the emotions and personalities of stuff in our houses. In that post I went over how to sort the stuff you have and decide what to keep. In this post I’ll explore ways to organize the stuff you want to keep.

Though you can find variations of these all over the internet, the basic principles for organizing spaces are:
  1. Like things with like things.
  2. Everything has a place.
  3. An empty space or junk drawer for the random.
  4. Go vertical.
  5. Keep things off the floor.
  6. Use what you already have before you buying new.
  7. Keep doorways and windows clear.
  8. Label shelves and containers.
As always, ask for help when you need it. If you’re organizationally or spatially challenged, invite a friend for food and ask for their expertise.



After you’ve decided what to keep, develop a plan for how and where to store things. You might consider some of the following options.

Shelves

Shelves are your friend. Put them anywhere there is a wall. Put two or three together and you have yourself some faux built-ins. If the room isn’t big enough for large bookshelves or wall units, smaller sets of shelves can work too.

Always anchor shelves and furniture to the wall; you don’t want littles or earthquakes pulling them over.

Closets

Most kids I know don’t have many hanging clothes, so make use of extra closet space. We left room for my kid to hang his suit coat and a few dress shirts from hangers; the rest of the closet is shelving units. We did not do anything fancy or expensive. On one side of the closet is a cheap particle board bookshelf, and on the other is a wire pantry shelf we’ve had for 20 years. On top of those shelves we’ve stacked the plastic drawer units, game boxes, and containers with various toys, balls, and other stuff the kid has collected. The basic shelving units at places like Ikea can work and can be modified; if you need more shelves than the unit comes with, add them. Most home building stores sell lengths of shelf board that is pre-painted. All you have to do is cut it (which can be done at the store) and attach with shelf brackets.

Put stuff the kids don’t need to access on their own—like multi-player games and kits with tiny pieces and lots of directions—on the top shelves, and leave the bottom shelves for things they can manage on their own.

Shadow Boxes and Jars

If you have a child who is a collector of little things, or one whose pockets are always full of this knickknack or that, embrace the chaos and use that stuff as decoration. Shadow boxes are great for paper, photos, and small  ephemera, as are jars.


Stuffed Animals

We didn’t really catch the stuff animal bug at my house, but I feel the pain of those of you with zoos in your houses. These soft, non-square, non-stackable items don’t fit neatly on shelves, and if your kids have anthropomorphized them, these items can’t be stuffed in boxes or shoved under the bed. Hammocks and zoo-jails are fun forms of storage, and over the door pocket organizers work great for smaller items like ponies, Barbies, and action figures.

Junk Drawer Galore

I know some philosophies would have you believe that when everything has a place, you don’t need a junk drawer just like you don’t need a miscellaneous file, but to that I say pshaw. Make your life easier. Have one place to stick random crap that doesn’t seem to have a home. It will have to be cleaned out eventually, but this is a stress reliever when all else is orderly. When our kid was younger, we had a see-through plastic bin that was the catchall container. Now that he’s a teen, his entire room is one big junk drawer.

Label that Crap

If the kids are little, print a photo as a label. Otherwise, make easy-to-read labels and tape or glue them on, if not for the kids, for your own sanity.

Check out Part One of this post dealing with the emotions and personalities related to the stuff in our houses.

Do you have tips or tricks to add? What is your best organizational hack? Please share those or any other resources that might be helpful for decluttering in the comments below.

If you have a question for Ask Cherri, send an email to wordyporter @ gmail.com or or use the google form.


Decluttering: Kids and Stuff, Part One



This is a two part response. This post is more about dealing with the emotions and personalities related to the stuff in our houses. The next post is about storage solutions.

Dear Cherri has been asked by more than one person about how to deal with kids’ stuff. Concerns include:
  • What should we do with the stuff kids are gifted, collect, and want to keep?
  • Where should we put all that stuff when space is tight?
  • How do we get our kids to part with stuff that is no longer needed or too big to store?
  • What do we do when our kids are pack-rats or have strong emotional attachments to stuff we don’t have space for?
Half of the reason parents are so tired is the time and energy spent managing stuff—lunch containers to backpacks to clothes to toys all suck away at our life force . Simplifying and organizing can go a long way to lightening the load. The process, however, is not always as easy as cleaning away the junk.

Even when we try to be modest and frugal, it’s nearly impossible not to collect gobs and gobs of stuff in 21st century America—and our kids are doing it too. Complicating matters more, we all have different relationships with the stuff we gather around us, and different reasons for doing so. The same item in one household has a completely different value or meaning in another. Stuff might feel like junk to you, but it’s often a lot more to another person.

For instance, although I like to collect random vintage and decorative things, I am often willing to part with those same things a few months or years down the road. I enjoy them while I have them, and like to see them move on to a useful home when I’m done. My husband and son, however, are more likely to keep all of the things they acquire, storing for possible future use or sentimental value. Our different relationships to stuff are part personality, part family of origin, and part cultural values. Knowing which clutter collecting personality applies to which family member can go a long way to increasing our compassion when dealing with all that stuff.

Below are a few concepts for dealing with the stuff and clearing the clutter. You always want to purge and sort before you attempt to organize and store.

Set limits and create boundaries

These will depend on your family and your space, but possibilities include:
  • One in, one out. If a new toy comes into the house, a toy is gifted or donated out. If you plan to do this, having a box or bag in the closet or garage for outgoing items can make this process easier.
  • Everything has a place or container, and we don’t bring in more than will fit in that place or container. These places and containers should be labeled.
  • If an item is being stored in the attic or garage, limit the amount of space it can take up, like one box, one shelf, one area, and keep those spaces are labeled.
  • Exclusion zones. For instance, Legos don’t go in the kitchen, or clothes don’t belong on the floor.
  • Broken stuff is recycled or thrown out. (We have a catchall box in the garage we call the robot kit. In it we put any random or broken plastic and metal parts we can’t recycle or that don’t have an immediate use. The idea is that if someone is building a robot or sculpture they could use all these random bits as raw material, and someday I’ll probably list it on craigslist. But, you’d be surprised how often we’ve dug into the robot kit looking for something that would work for some project we’re working on. I know, though, that not everyone has a place to keep this kind of junk, so just get rid of the broken crap.)
  • The holding zone. If there is stuff you want to part with but a family member is unwilling to do so right now, put it in a holding zone to revisit at a later date. They might be more willing to part with it after it sits in box in the garage for six months.
  • Decide how often you’ll go through your kids stuff and do it with them. I know, cleaning with kids is a pain in the rear, but getting them involved is necessary for a lot of reasons. At my house we usually attack the kid’s room once in the summer and once over the winter break. My kid’s main organization strategy is to pile things on the floor, so I don’t necessarily need his help putting stuff away, but I do need his help to sort trough things and decide what to keep and what to get rid of.
Don’t punish; respect emotional attachments to stuff

Respecting a child’s autonomy can be challenging when that autonomy is spread in 1000 pieces throughout the house, but if we want kids to grow up into adults who can manage their own stuff, we need to let them practice this as children. Throwing out their stuff or telling them they absolutely cannot keep things they want is a recipe for disaster for so many reasons. Many of us have learned this the hard way. My teenager is still mourning the loss of a marble I got rid of years ago. I did not know the marble had value to him, and it was mixed in with a bunch of other stuff he never played with. Had I known of his attachment, I would have kept it, but this situation could have been avoided if I had let him make the decisions with me rather than clearing things out while he was out of the house.

Give kids tools for making choices and a chance to make them

When helping someone clean out their clutter, questions about why they want to keep something, what it means to them, and what they want to do with it. The questions can help clarify what to do with something. If you repeat this process often enough, and respect  the answers, children have a better chance of internalizing these concepts and putting them into practice as they are grown.

Questions that might apply are:
  • Why do I want to keep this? What does it mean to me?
  • What will I do with it? Where will I put it?
  • Will I still want this in a month? Next year? (This is similar to the 10/10/10 rule.)
  • Am I willing to part with something else so I can keep this?
  • Is this item a place holder for something else I’d rather have?
  • I like the 20/20 question as well: if I can find this for less than 20 dollars within 20 minutes from home, do I need to hang onto it? This question is helpful for those of us who like to keep things “just in case.”
Sentimental items

If a toy or item is sentimental to someone, take a photo of the item, or take a photo of them with the item, and then have them write down (or dictate to you) why they value it. You can do this in a scrapbook or journal if you have those, or in the digital notes area of the photo. There are lots of ideas for this kind of record keeping online, but the core concept is if something has meaning or value to a person, respect that by recording that value. Putting those photos together in a little book or collage is a great way to organize them. This strategy works for the plethora of kids art projects and paper ephemera that builds up around the house.

Another idea is to have one box or shelf that contains sentimental items to keep—things they might want to have as adults or share with their own kids some day. Label the box or shelf and then they know the items in there are safe and you know not to get rid of them without your kid’s permission. You can even make the kid be in charge of that area—they decide what goes in and out.

Give to friends and neighbors

Letting kids pick friends, family, or neighbors to pass on gently-used or outgrown items to is not only a good habit to develop, but knowing someone else is enjoying an item we no longer need is a good feeling. This helps create a sense of community, as well. The shared economy is the future.

Keep a sense of humor about the mess, and a sense of affection for the messer

For everything there is a season; small kids is the season of stuff everywhere. Although it might annoy us, a child keeping something bulky or something we hate isn’t really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Sort and delete first, then organize

#protip: When I’m sorting out and clearing clutter, I get a few empty boxes or laundry baskets and label them donate, regift, store. Then I sort right into the basket as I’m taking things out of closets or pulling things from under the bed. This is a helpful technique for when the clutter clearing project you’re working on will take more than one day, or if you’ll be interrupted during it.



After you’ve sorted all the clutter and have decided what to keep, then you can move on to organizing it. Don’t try to organize the clutter; purge first and then organize what’s left. Even when the clutter is mostly junk you don’t want or need, there is an emotional weight to it that keeps us from spending our energy elsewhere. As we speak I feel the weight of the messy hall closets, the boxes of kid art and papers in the bedroom, and the tubs of vintage stuff I need to sort in the garage. Clutter, even when we do nothing with it, takes our energy, so keeping the clutter at a minimum is good for our mental health. 

Check out Part Two of this post about what to do with the stuff you decide to keep.

Do you have tips or tricks to add? What is your best organizational hack? Please share those or any other resources that might be helpful for decluttering in the comments below.

If you have a question for Ask Cherri, send an email to wordyporter @ gmail.com or or use the google form.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Another Worthless Gift Guide

If you read my last post, you'll know I've got some bitchy complicated feelings about gift giving and receiving.

However, I also have great taste and like to tell people what to do, so here is my gift guide anyway.

I'm sure you don't need or want it, but I wanted to make it. 



The Happy Home


Coasters

These great and little bear prints. (So freaking cute!)

For the lucky few who get to keep their butter on the counter.

A brass and glass lantern or terrarium to fill with candles or sparkly things. I just bought this one at TJMAXX. I've seen others at Michael's.



This stunning coffee table book.


These water bottles keep your drinks cold for hours. Really. 

Anyone with pets needs one of these.

*I want. You want. Everyone wants. It's the solution to half of my problems.


Fun for All

A swearing party game. I'm in. Oh wait, the goal is to not swear. Dammit.



Jumbo dice for those outdoor games of Yatzee.

I don't even use mugs and I swear I need this.

Donkey Mug

A plush Scully. Perfection. All babies need this (sans the necklace, because choking hazard.)

Scully
For the Lone Gunmen in your life: prayer candles.

Young or old, there is a person in your life who needs a bucket of shit. No really.

*And this toy cactus. I bought one as a gift recently and it's amazing.




Adornment



Any piece from this Etsy seller.

Geo Necklace

Zodiac Constellation charms for that friend sister who believes that stuff.

Black silhouette jewelry holders in the shape of birds, a ballerina, and more birds.

A unisex bag that's been in my shopping cart for months.

Lapel pins are back in. A dandelion. How you doing? I know a few people for whom this applies.


Ribbons

I am positive my mother needs this ironed onto a jean jacket.

Too Bad So Sad Patch

I saw a gal walking across campus with this bag and I fell a little bit in love with her that day.

If you'd like your cat to look like a 16th century jester AND you'd like it to stop eating birds, try this.

Cat Collar


Ephemera

A box of greeting card "pick your own" charts can only go awry if the gifted has no sense of humor.

We all need a box of these.


This Rocketbook smart notebook is pretty dang cool.


The Night Voyage coloring book. 

A set of the best coloring pencils.


On My List

For real though, I want this. I'm not being ironic.
(Okay, maybe I'm being a little bit ironic, but I have been a doomsday prepper since the 3rd grade.)



What's On Your List?

Leave a comment below, or visit on facebook to tell us what you want for Christmas.


Sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Instagram.

For more ideas on how to manage gift giving during the holidays, check out my holiday themed newsletter.

If you need gift ideas for tweens, I made a list a few years ago.
It's a bit outdated, but there are lots of gems on here.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Gift Giving and The Love Languages

Have you heard of Gary Chapman's Love Languages? In this schemata, each of us have different channels through which we most easily feel and give love. The Happier Podcast recently did an episode on it if you want to learning more. If you want to find out your love language, take the quiz here.

I've had a lot of thoughts on gift giving rolling around in my brain for years, yet learning about the love languages helped me clarify some of them. 


Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash Open Domain

My primary love language is acts of service, like how my husband vacuumed my car last week *heart eyes.* The best acts of service are things I don't have to be in charge of. For instance, my husband says he'll cook for me, but when I have to ask him to cook, and then tell him what to make, I feel anxiety and shame rather than loved. But, if he just cooks something for me, I eat it and feel nourished.

For years I've asked people to not buy gifts for me. Many might think I hate gifts or hate holidays or am just a joy kill. But my reasons for asking people to not buy gifts for me are more complicated than that, and related to my core story


First, I hate for stuff to be not used. The stuff in our homes should be meaningful, useful, or beautiful. I don't like waste or random stuff that doesn't fit into that category. And I really dislike things that might be useful to someone, but are not useful to me, piling up. Those of you who follow me on social media have witnessed this, as every time I clean out a closet I want stuff to go to a good home rather than just the trash or a thrift store. 
Ultimately, I believe we show major disrespect for the planet and the future if we don't value the things we have. So, that's the first part of my no gifts puzzle. 


Morgue Free Image

The second part is that, for years, even when I was explicit about what I liked or wanted, I got other stuff instead--sometimes gobs of other stuff, or other stuff similar to what I wanted but not quite. At a core level, the story I was telling about these gifts was that the people who gave them: did not get me, did not understand me, and didn't think it was worth figuring me out. 

I get I'm a bit of an enigma, but am I really that bad?


What I've realized recently is that my secondary love language is receiving gifts even in all of these years of no gifts. Huh. The trouble is, random things, or things that don't fit into the meaningful/useful/beautify metric, make me feel misunderstood and unloved, so it's a double-edged sword. The results here are that I'm a complete asshole and only feel loved when people get the gift magically right, which is nearly impossible. Thus, no gift is better than some gift in this labyrinth


Gifts in recent memory that really meant something to me: two years ago the only gift I got on Christmas was an Amazon gift card from my in-laws. I got to buy books of my own choosing with it and I didn't feel compelled to buy household shit. The second gift was when my husband taped a Dutch Bros Coffee gift card to my steering wheel at the start of the new semester. I felt seen and understood in both of those moments. 



Friday, October 7, 2016

The New Neutrals



Black
Navy
Any color except beige
Denim
Stripes
Polk-a-dots
Large florals
Animal prints
Camoflauge
Safety orange
Back fat
La Croix
Bark
Starbucks cups
Chicken pox
Misogyny




Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The 24 Stages of Grading Essays


  1. Collect digital copies of essays.
  2. Email all the students who submitted their essays incorrectly.
  3. Hope you’re a new person this semester who can start grading essays immediately upon submission, instead of procrastinating.
  4. Decide you’re too tired to start now. You’ll do better with a fresh brain.
  5. Lose sleep because you’re worried students are worried about the lack of feedback on their essay.
  6. Follow interior decorators on Instagram. 
  7. Like every Instagram photo you see with flowers arranged by folks in England. 
  8. Read 2-5 books unrelated to the discipline you teach.
  9. Prep lessons for next few classes, just to get it out of the way.
  10. Research new career paths because you can’t keep doing this.
  11. Lose more sleep. Have that dream again where you eat the table cloth at a swank restaurant with the wrong fork.
  12. Come up with excuses for why you’re not done yet.
  13. Nap.
  14. Grade one essay. It’s not that bad.
  15. Oops, the next one is terrible.
  16. Set a timer for how long you’re going to grade before you can check social media again.
  17. Hydrate.
  18. Pee.
  19. Reset the timer.
  20. Obsess about all the creative things you would be doing if you didn’t have this soul leeching task leeching your soul of all creative impulse.
  21. Stab self with grading pen you no longer use because you’ve gone digital.
  22. Get around to grading 143 essays somehow. You have no memory of how it happens, really, but they are done except for that one student you fully expect will never to return class again, but he shows up so you have to scramble to grade it really quick during class so he doesn’t wonder why you didn’t grade his and only his.
  23. Vow to become a new person.
  24. Collect another set of essays.