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learntoseeeyes

I realized a series on learning to see would benefit our slowing, so I launched the first post, entitled “Seeing Lessons,” with suggestions for looking at art.

If we’ve been in the habit of hurry, we need input from those who remind us to slow and to see … to see and let it slow us.

For the next few “seeing lessons,” I wanted to point you to some people who do just that; by living with eyes open and alert to the beauty all around, they provide inspiration and guidance, serving as slow-down mentors.

The first mentor I’d like to introduce you to is Ann Voskamp. Ann produces sight-full posts at Holy Experience. Her photography helps me see the ordinary as extraordinary, the presumably ugly as beautiful, the simple as exquisite.

Her words help me see the song in the stillness, the poem in the porridge, the prayer in those moments I might otherwise disregard as meaningless. As she says far more beautifully than I ever could (excerpted from “The Plan” found at the bottom of her posts):

…stringing sheets out on the line…

I’m praying to slow and see
the sacred in the chaos,
the Cross in the clothespin,
the flame in the bush.

Just a bit of listening, laundry, liturgy … life.

Ann is a mentor for these things (and more): listening, learning, praying, giving, loving, forgiving, writing, and learning to see.

I dug up some of her thoughts on learning to see that she posted two years ago.

Visit Holy Experience and let Ann take you by the hand to lead you to quiet, honest, pensive places where you will feast your eyes and fill your soul.

Let her help you slow and see.

(Photo of son’s eyes taken by Ann Kroeker © 2009)

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(Part 2 in “Seeing Lessons” here)

In the high-speed life, we almost seem to have lost our ability to see.

Life for many fast-paced families is, after all, speeding past in a blur. Are we losing the habit of attention? How can we make careful, clear, focused observations when our eyes are darting from the cell phone, to the BlackBerry, to the speedometer?

It’s as if we need seeing lessons.

A post the other day about slowing down to focus (and rushing through the Louvre) got me to thinking about learning to appreciate art.

"The Circus," Georges Pierre Seurat (Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

"The Circus," Georges Pierre Seurat (Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

Art, I think, can teach us to see again.

Years ago I stumbled upon a blog about “art…parenting…life…and trying to piece it all together,” called Mental Tesserae. The blogger is an art instructor and a mom. She really does blend thoughts about art, parenting and life in her posts. Mental Tesserae has provided many amusing and memorable art lessons.

Take, for example, this post she created about Magritte’s “Man with a newspaper.” She helps me really look at the artwork. Then she helps me think about it. She personalizes it with a story from her own life, and I leave her blog empowered and capable of appreciating it more than I ever would have on my own.

This article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weekends ago showcased Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” providing historical and artistic background that gave me a greater understanding of its importance and impact on art in the 19th century. I’m starting to look for tools like this, written by experts who can provide the “anatomy of a classic” for ordinary readers like me.

Also, Mental Multivitamin posts Fine Art Friday briefly highlights various ways she is exploring art by seeing, learning and doing. I’m inspired by her autodidact approach.

In the spirit of an autodidact, I found this site geared for kids that invites you to click through a fun exercise, something like a game, to learn about art.

KidsArt has a list of famous artwork to click on and learn about.

[UPDATE: Just added,with thanks to Ann Voskamp for this biblical art link]

Or just visiting various collections at galleries around the world online gives us plenty of artwork to study. We can visit:

At the Louvre site, you can enjoy an online tour of its most famous masterpieces, or browse through what it has posted online of its 35,000 works of art. Pick a department to narrow things down.

These tools help me spend a little time studying and thinking about details I might have missed on my own.

Detail from "The Circus," George Pierre Seurat (Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

Detail from "The Circus," George Pierre Seurat (Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

They provide some lessons in how to see.

I want to learn to see everything more closely and clearly, and art is a place to practice.

(Photo credit: Ann Kroeker, taken at the Musee d’Orsay, 1991)

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Stephanie at Olive Tree posed two interview questions, which I answered at great length.

In fact, the answers were so involved, she turned the blog interview into a two-part event.

Part 1 is here, with a book giveaway! Leave a comment at her post to enter.

Part 2 is here.

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

This weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Not So Fast” (August 21, 2009), and while it was indeed talking about our high-speed world, it was not actually about my book by that same title. I just want to clear that up first thing, because someone assumed that my book, Not So Fast, was being highlighted.

The article’s author, John Freeman, and I seem to share the same concerns about living a high-speed life, but he focused specifically on the speed of communication. The article was adapted from his forthcoming book (entitled The Tyrrany of E-mail).

In it, Freeman sets forth a “manifesto for slow communication.”

He begins by pointing out that we have limits—even our minds have limits. In fact, he refers to “the overheated capacity of our minds.” The speed of communication runs up against these limits and stresses them.

Busyness, he argues, especially that which is brought about by email addiction, numbs and distracts us from dealing with our morbidity. Freeman writes:

Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.

Our society does not often tell us this.

He describes our perception of progress as moving faster and growth as eternal; but in reality, very few things have indefinite growth. Instead, progress ultimately has to do with “learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us … Of course email is good for many things … But we need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.”

Reading is affected when we can’t slow down and enjoy it. The high-speed, high-tech lifestyle makes it hard for us to listen, to be restful and reflective. Being constantly “on” leads to burnout, meltdowns and general unhappiness. “How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?” Freeman rhetorically asks.

Then comes the manifesto for a “slow communication movement,” yet another avenue in which humans are longing to slow down our lives in this fast-paced world. There’s the Slow Food movement, Slow Cycling, Slow Parenting, Slow Schooling, Slow Design, and now, Slow Communication.

Everyone is aching to live “not so fast.”

And people are analyzing all the ways we’re encouraged/tempted/pushed to speed up. Communication in a high-tech world is a big one. The fact that I can type up a response to John Freeman’s article on this blog and click “Publish” so that you can immediately access it illustrates the speed of communication today. One needn’t wait for a newspaper to receive and accept my letter to the editor and publish it on a printing press. We have blogs. Email. Facebook. Twitter. I can tweet a link to this in seconds. In fact, I probably will.

Not long ago, I wondered if we should become “Slow to Tweet,” to avoid some of the ranting and raving that slips out when we write too fast, without editing, without pausing, without thinking through the consequences of our words. I wrote:

The strength of these forms of communication is their immediacy. But immediacy doesn’t build in adequate time for the slow reflection that enhances meaningful communication. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter or Facebook doesn’t even build in time for basic editing; so often I’ve been aggravated with myself for misspellings or even missing words in my tweets.

So as I explore and enjoy these communication tools, I have to remind myself to go slow; to tap on the mental brakes long enough to think through my words and ideas—and consider how they might be received.

I think I’m tracking with Freeman, who writes, “If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world.” For the manifesto, he proposes:

1. Speed matters.

The speed at which we do something changes our experience of it. This includes words and communication. “The faster we talk and chat and type over tools such as email and text messages,” Freeman claims, “the more our communication will resemble traveling at great speed … we will live in a constant state of digital jet lag.”

Decision-making is affected by speed. We can make bold and effective snap decisions when need be, but sometimes we need to take time to make well-thought-through decisions that need analysis and wisdom.

Freeman points out, as I did in my “Slow to Tweet” post, that we need to think through cause and effect in all areas, including communication. Jotting off a thought too quickly via email is how we end up spreading gossip and rumors, hurt someone, or make sloppy errors.

We need to live slow enough to give our words the attention they need. We need to slow down and compose carefully. To think through each thought. To pause before hitting “send.”

“Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources,” Freeman states. “If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we really need it.” And that which we say needn’t travel at the fastest rate possible.

Point two of his manifesto?

2. The Physical World matters.

While it’s great to use technology to connect with people around the world (we Kroekers are, in fact, happy with the technological ability to easily stay in touch with family members who live on another continent), it does change the communication experience.

Freeman points out that using electronics to communicate leads us away from cafes, post offices, and community halls where we would chat with real people in a physical location. It can lead to a sense of isolation and neglect of the place where we might otherwise have gathered.

I’d rather be in person, where I can experience what the article says is “the indescribable feeling of togetherness that one gleans from face-to-face interaction.” If we devote hours to exchanging messages via Facebook with friends all over the world instead of joining a friend at a park, we are, Freeman says, “effectively withdrawing from the people we could turn to for solace, humor and friendship, not to mention the places we could do this.”

His final point in his “slow communication manifesto” is:

3. Context matters.

Today, progress is closely associated with speed, and speed is identified with efficiency; but Freeman advises us to pause, separate these ideas from each other and examine them individually. Efficiency may be good for certain businesses and necessary for government action, but doesn’t lead to “mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships,” Freeman states. The Internet is a fabulous invention that we can tap into for many purposes, but isn’t best for everything that needs discussion. Slowing communication can help us recognize when a fast mode is the ideal choice, and when it’s best to say something in person, face-to-face, while looking someone in the eye.

I use technology to communicate. I turn to e-mail for much of my professional work and to interact with family and friends, both local and long-distance. I Twitter and use Facebook.

But I want to enjoy rich, fun, memorable conversations with my husband and four kids. I want to tell stories, laugh, resolve conflict and relate truth. And I want to do this across the table with them, or while holding hands on a walk down the street.

I have friends, too, that I want to spend time with in person. We may exchange a few thoughts via e-mail, but before long I want to pick up a phone to chat, or meet them for dinner.

So while we do use our computers and two of the kids have texting, we walk away from the screens and turn off the gadgets to be together. This very evening, I left this post—this post about communication and connecting with people—half-written in draft mode in order to attend a neighborhood fun fair with friends. We gathered and ate nachos, played Bingo, and ended up at their house where we drank hot chocolate and talked for hours.

There’s a place for technology in our world. It’s not going away, and I’m glad, because I depend on it for many tasks—including communication needs. But I don’t want it to dominate or become my life; I want it to be a tool that enhances my life … my life in this physical world that I inhabit and this home that I share with five other people and a dog.

Hopefully the WSJ lets you access the article. I’ve attempted to summarize, but I think you’ll enjoy the entire article, as Freeman examines this one aspect of the high-speed world we live in and how it affects us in profound ways.

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

Today I’d like to extend a special welcome to Rachel Anne of Home Sanctuary and her Company Girls!

Rachel Anne conducted an interview with me for the Company Girls and included excerpts of it in her newsletter, which was just published.

Here’s the interview in its entirety:

Home Sanctuary: With the demands on families these days, is it really possible to slow down?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: Maybe you’ll think I’m unrealistic, but yes, I do think it’s possible—so much so that I was confident enough to use the phrase “slow-down solutions for frenzied families” as the book’s subtitle! But (and this is the hard part) we have to counter the culture, because the culture around us is in overdrive. Unless we make bold, intentional choices, we’ll end up in overdrive, too, by default. It’s not easy. However, if we turn to the Lord in prayer, open to change, He can help us develop the needed discernment, vision, courage and confidence to change our deepest values that may result in a major family slow-down.

Home Sanctuary: What are some of the benefits you’ve seen in your family as a result of slowing the pace down?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: I don’t operate well emotionally or relationally when I’m stressed and in high speed—neither do the kids. I get snippy, agitated, nervous, easily upset. So slowing down means we are all less snippy with each other and generally more gentle, loving and kind. We do better at noticing and responding to details—whether something of beauty in this world, or pain in someone’s eyes. I think we have more joy and fun as a family. We have more time to be in other people’s lives, too, building friendships, serving neighbors and enjoying spontaneous outings. We have time to read, work on family projects, explore interests, and we’re out in nature more. Most importantly, I believe we have more time available to seek the Lord, both individually and together as a family.

Home Sanctuary: Do you have a favorite “slow down” tip?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: Well, high-speed families may have to start small and simple. For them, I’d suggest doing something, however simple, that gets them outside in God’s creation. Pick a day and time to take a regular walk as a family. This works for all ages. The first few walks may be simply around the block or down the street and back. Eventually, a family may choose to increase the distance or frequency, because they can relax and talk about their days and goals and dreams. They can notice seasonal changes and wave to their neighbors. Unplugging and chatting like this reinforces the slow life. If there’s no time for a walk, how about just pausing at sunset to watch the sun slip out of sight? Stop and thank the Lord for giving the family another day of life together.

Home Sanctuary: How about a “slow down” food recipe?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: When families’ schedules are full to the brim, breakfast is sometimes a grab-n-go affair. So I like cooking steel cut oats overnight in a crock pot, using a double-boiler method. It’s not exactly a recipe—more like instructions—but the steel cut oats are warm, nourishing and ready to serve when you wake up in the morning. They feel slow. Here’s the link, with instructional photos and explanatory text.

Home Sanctuary: How do you deal with technology (tv, phone, texting, facebook, gaming) in your family?  Do you have suggestions for families who want to limit it but don’t know where to start?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: In Not So Fast, I devote an entire chapter to our family’s technology saga. I use technology, so I am not Luddite. But I also see how it speeds up a lot of things in people’s lives in unhealthy ways. It’s easier to wait a long time to introduce something than to buy something right away and then take it away later because it’s having a negative effect. Pray about it. Research what experts are saying about each item that you’re considering, and ask if you think it will help your child move closer to the Lord or pull her away? Will it enhance relationships or wreak havoc? Will it enrich their lives or keep them from more enriching experiences?

Once you invite some type of technology into your lives, set limits and monitor it closely. I recommend seriously limiting or eliminating any technology that causes a kid to show signs of addiction, rebellion, or anti-social behavior toward the family. If it is enhancing life and is a tool well managed, it may be okay. See if the Lord starts to reveal trouble areas and talk about it with the kids. Act boldly if they can’t change or control their use of it.

I don’t know that we’ve made all the best decisions, but here’s where we are today: The kids don’t have Facebook. I do, however. I set up an account, and over time it’s become an extension of my professional/ministry/writing life. Some of my kids’ friends have friended me, so I can pass on relevant information. The kids own handheld gaming gadgets that they can use with limits. Just a couple of months ago, the two oldest, ages 15 and 13, bought their own phones and pay for their minutes; again, they have limits and I reserve the right to confiscate the games or phones at any moment and to read every text. They agreed to it. We have two TVs with few and uninteresting channels. Neither TV set is on the main floor of the house or in a child’s room. As a result, we watch very, very little television or movies. The kids have e-mail that we review when concerned. They also have computers that they use in public spaces.

Every family has to decide what works for them. We have friends who don’t own a TV at all and love the freedom. We have friends whose high school kids don’t have a phone yet or have one phone that all the kids share. It’s not the norm, but we don’t have to go with what the culture is doing just because it’s the norm. We have to do what we feel is right for our family. Even if it makes us look a little backward.

Home Sanctuary: Family devotions can be really hard to pull off consistently.  Do you have any suggestions?

Ann Kroeker/Not So Fast: Years ago we tried to make it more involved, and that became too much work. One idea is to try having devotions while on the walk that you start incorporating into your week! Any time we can dovetail it with something that’s already a habit will help make it easier to integrate.

Our family eats at home most of the time, so we open up the One-Year Bible at the end of the evening meal and pick one verse from that day’s reading to talk about. It’s simple, doesn’t take long, and can involve all ages. Sometimes we have some really interesting conversation that way, and sometimes it’s really brief and basic. Some families do better with a book to guide them through some discussions, and others prefer a bigger devotion time once a week over a small, simpler daily routine. Experiment. Try something for one month and then tweak it the next.

I do think it’s important to be comfortable talking regularly about the Lord and learning to pray together. I hope your readers give it a try. Seeking Him together as a family can transform a family—at whatever speed a family operates, I hope that they learn to keep in step with the Spirit.

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My friend Jane invited me to record a podcast and submit a guest post for her Only By Prayer blog.

So that’s where you’ll find me today on the World Wide Web–at Only By Prayer. Education is the topic she’s focusing on this month, so I wrote about it with a “slow-down” focus.

Here’s an excerpt:

When it comes to my children’s education, I certainly want them to do their best academically. I expect them to work hard and develop discipline, gain knowledge and develop skills. But at the heart of their education—at the core of everything—I want them to live lives fully devoted to the Lord. I want our day-to-day activity to involve conversation, dialogue, and ongoing discussions about what it means at a practical level to love the Lord with everything in us. And when I’m living in high-speed mode, chaotic and hectic, it’s very difficult to make this a natural part of our interaction.

Shortly after that section, I veered a bit from the education theme and headed more toward the greatest commandment. Well, you’ll see…

To read the post, CLICK HERE.

Drop by, leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Not So Fast.

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

planner

Sped-up families tend to overcommit and overschedule. If we pack our days so full, there’s no margin, no space, no possibility that we can meet up with a friend at the last minute because life is too booked.

One of the beautiful advantages of living a slower paced life is that there is often more freedom to spend time with people, serving them or simply enjoying them.

An article from body+soul magazine called “Unplan Your Life,” by Becky Karush, suggests that life can be too planned.

The article offers several suggestions for how to invite a little spontaneity into our days, recommending that readers make room for enjoyable “noninstrumental” activity, such as reading for pleasure or chatting with friends. Schedules that squeeze out such pleasant and spontaneous moments “can contribute to problems like depression, anxiety, weakened immunity, and heart disease” (p. 102).

Also, it said that doing something novel or unexpected can trigger “neurogenesis,” the creation of new neurons in the brain–something that is linked to learning and mood.

So embrace the unexpected surprises, the unplanned visits, the spontaneous decision to hop on bikes and ride to get ice cream.

Here are the four suggestions from that article for unplanning your life:

1. Pencil It In

They suggest that we make our plans and set our schedule … but keep it loose and write it in pencil, thinking of it as a sketch of what we’d like to do, but dispensable if things should change.

2. Tweak a Habit

The article points out that one doesn’t need to make a dramatic life change to experience healthy transformation. Sometimes subtle changes make a big difference.

3. Rejigger Your To-Do List

When we schedule certain items on a to-do list, we can get caught thinking we’re committed, that we should do them on that day, no matter what. The writer proposes that we try to be flexible enough that a chore can wait a few hours while we take up an old friend on a last-minute lunch invitation.

4. Say Yes

When we’re over-booked, we have to turn down spontaneous dinner invitations or a chance to go tubing. If we learn to say yes to things, “a world of possibilities opens up.”

By the way, Jill Savage of Hearts at Home has been encouraging moms to be “yes” moms. Instead of saying no out of selfishness, default, or habit, she wants moms to say yes to things in order to bring joy to our families.

5. Wing It

Instead of scheduling every moment of a vacation, the article suggests we leave a lot of it unplanned. Doing something more adventurous like this can led us to creativity and potential life change. We might try doing something we never would have tried otherwise. This kind of approach can “shake things loose” and give us a “heightened sense of possibility and potential.”

That’s an overview of the article.

This weekend, we should try it.

Try to leave a few spaces in Saturday’s schedule blank, unfilled, ready for a surprise.

Maybe someone will invite you to picnic in the park?

Or maybe, because you’re living not so fast, you can do the inviting!

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

ripples

(photo credit: stock.xchng)

Chatting at the Sky longs to be more and do less.

She listens and responds to the Voice of God saying:

Trust.

Receive.

Respond.

Abide.

Be still.

And rest.

Click HERE to read more.

(many thanks to Overcoming Busy for posting the link)

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

focus2

(photo credit: stock.xchng)

In the first chapter of Not So Fast (the link takes you to a pre-published sample that has changed slightly), I talk about our family’s fast-paced, camera-clicking, breeze-past-the-art trip through the Louvre.

On that particular trip, we didn’t slow enough to really take in the art.

Apparently, we are not alone.

This article in The New York Times, “At the Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus,”  is about this very phenomenon of people snapping photos of paintings and moving on, without taking time to observe. To observe apparently takes too long, requiring a person to stop for a while and look.

The author describes two young women in flowered dresses who walked around and looked at the art. They slowed. “They paused and circled around a few sculptures,” he said. “They took their time. They looked slowly … The young women were unusual for stopping. Most of the museum’s visitors passed through the gallery oblivious.”

Enjoying art, appreciating it, takes time.

The article said, “Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute.”

In our fast-paced world, can we learn to slow down enough to truly focus?

While we ponder that at a philosophical and personal level, I do have some practical ideas to offer that are related to families in art museums.

The kids and I have been to a few art museums, and most of the time we took our time (the Louvre being our ridiculous exception).

When the kids were really little, we just pointed out things that might be of interest to preschool and primary-school minds (“Let’s count the sheep on this hillside.” “Look how huge that cloud is!” or “Can you see how the whole picture is made up of little color dots? We could try something like that at home with your markers.”).

We also checked with the museum’s policy on notebooks, bags, etc. Some are very particular that you cannot carry a backpack, pen, or have a sketchbook over a certain size. Once we discovered what was allowed, we took a shoulder bag within the size limit and packed it full of colored pencils and notebooks. Then we encouraged the kids to find a painting or piece of art that they really liked. If the museum would allow it and the crowds were small, we’d encourage the kids to sit on the floor and sketch it. By looking closely like that, copying it as best they could, following the curves and matching colors, they “owned” that piece of art.

Often I would join them, attempted to copy a painting or sculpture myself. Those are pieces that I “own,” too.

As we walked along, I would read the information plaques to myself and then explain it at their level, focusing in on some detail they might find interesting.

If I was heading to a well-known out-of-town art museum, I would check out a book from the library with photos of the art at that place. Now I would probably look online, as well, to see some beforehand.

Then they could enjoy a kind of scavenger hunt when we arrived:

“Okay, kids, next let’s look for that Edward Hopper painting we saw in the library book.”

“Does someone spot the Seurat we saw online? Yes, right over there—look how big it is!”

All this museum-talk has me craving some art. I’m going to make time in the next two months to get to a museum … and schedule a good, long visit so we can really focus.

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oldradioI was interviewed about Not So Fast on a radio station in Minneapolis.

If you’re curious, you can listen to the MP3 archive HERE.

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