Friday, January 31, 2014

7 quick takes


1

Things have been stressful lately.  All kinds of reasons.  The result of this is that when it comes to "me time," I am too tired to do anything worthwhile.  Spin?  Blurg.  Blog?  Meh.  Read something in-depth?  Nah.  How come my internet comics only update once a day?    I usually describe this as feeling bored, but it isn't really bored.  It's just lacking energy and interest.  When you're tab-surfing all over the internet and whining that "There's nothing gooooood onnnnnn," you know it's not a lack of material.  The boredom is within me.

2

However, in the interest of overcoming my flaws, I have been doing a few things.  For instance, I'm spinning some llama wool, which turns out to be super awesome.  I don't know why I thought llama wasn't soft!  Sure, it has guard hairs which you have to pull out, which is a bit of a hassle.  But the resulting yarn is just so delightful.  Even before I ply and wash it, it's super soft, while most things I've spun are kind of wiry when they first go onto the spindle.

The question then is what to do with it.  I know some of it is going to go back to the dear friend who gave me the fiber, and some is going to be sold, but I want to do something with some of it myself.  I know that llama is extremely warm, that it's not at all elastic, and that it's nice and soft.  So what would you make?  Socks are out, unless I blended it with something, because those require stretch.  Shawl?  Baby blanket?  Both of those require a lot of yardage.  So I'm bouncing around the notions of a hat, baby sweater, or a scarf.  Other ideas welcome.

3

I also just read Ceremony of Innocence, by one of my favorite bloggers (Dorothy Cummings McLean, who writes Seraphic Singles) and enjoyed it.  I'm not quite sure what genre to call it.  I think she says it's a "thriller," whatever that is.  What it mainly is is a mystery, but the mystery is revealed through a lot of flashbacks rather than detective work.  And the central question is not so much "who did it?" (though I was dying to know), but "what is right, what is wrong, and who can claim to be innocent?"

It was very interesting and made me think.  I disagreed on some points with the author .... although it is possible that I actually don't disagree with her, but that she simply was stepping back to let me make a conclusion she wanted me to make, but wasn't explicit about.

Mysterious enough?  I'd hate to spoil it for you.  Buy the book.  People complain there's no good Catholic fiction, but you aren't in any position to complain if, when it comes out, you don't buy it.  The reason there isn't much excellent Catholic fiction is that when people write it (and they do!), their publishers say, "But we don't think we could sell that.  No one buys their fiction from their Catholic publisher."

4

I keep whining about money, and I know I shouldn't.  It just hurts to watch our income dwindle, even as the numbers stay exactly the same, because of inflation.  It makes me angry to hear that the government is willfully printing more money and injecting it into the economy and then claiming it "doesn't cause inflation."  How exactly is that supposed to work?  Inflation numbers are low because they do not count the price of gasoline, housing, or food.  Well, those are most people's main expenses (in addition to healthcare, which is skyrocketing for its own reasons), so inflation can still drive people into poverty even when, by the government's numbers, it doesn't exist at all.

The worst of it is that the only reason the government uses those inflation numbers is because they are required to adjust social security payments to inflation, and they wanted to keep those payments as low as possible.  So now Grandma can't afford food, housing, or gas ... but that's okay, cellphones are getting cheaper all the time!

Meanwhile, of course, our own needs are growing.  You know how I was complaining a month or two ago that the kids wouldn't eat?  Suddenly they are eating everything in sight and demanding more.  I buy tremendous amounts of food for tremendous amounts of money, and snap! gone.  At any rate I can be glad that the kids are getting enough to eat.  But the rate our grocery bill is skyrocketing .... it keeps me up at night.

Anyway, John had TWO interviews last week, and we are very excited that he could finally have a chance to work in his field and therefore make significantly more.  One, the less promising one, already chose someone else, but the really exciting one is still doing interviews, so John is still in the running.  If you would like to say a prayer, that would be great.

5

I fell asleep during the homily last Sunday (Michael has been up all night teething, and YOU try staying awake after a sleepless night when a snuggly toddler is napping in your lap) and thus got a great sermon.  I woke up briefly to hear the priest say, "Just like we can't say 'I am for Paul' or 'I am for Apollos,' we shouldn't say we are 'Benedict Catholics' or 'Francis Catholics.'  We are all Catholics.  And we can't choose only to listen to the Pope we liked best."

I rejoiced, thinking "Finally this priest understands!  He might jive best with Benedict, but he's going to take Francis' words to heart too!"  John tells me that was not at all the point of the sermon.  But I meditated on just those words as I nodded back off, and they meant a lot to me.  We can't be divided between fan clubs.  We have to realize that Benedict's words and Francis' words came from the same root, which is Christ, and that both of them can bring us to Christ.

6

I don't seem to remember winter in Virginia usually being this long and cold.  John says I always say that.  Time flies for me in the summer, and crawls all winter long.  I get very tired and depressed in the winter.  It's not a lack of sunshine -- there's sun reflecting off the snow right now! -- but I hate being cold and I also hate being stuck inside.  So there you are.

I want it to be spring NOW.  At least it is almost February.  And though February has nothing else to recommend it, it is the shortest month.  And as soon as it's over, no matter how cold it still is out, I am planting some broccoli seedlings inside and maybe even putting some peas outside.  I read recently that you can plant peas as early as you like, they'll just wait for the weather they need and then come up.  We'll see if that's true.  I do know my only hope of having peas before the hot weather kills them all is to get them in the very earliest I can.  And sugar snap peas are just about my favorite thing ever .... and I never buy them because the price is ridiculous.

Oh, for another thing I hate about winter -- expensive vegetables and nothing fresh.  Ugh.  I want to eat tomatoes that are still warm from the sun.  And lettuce that's just had the dirt brushed off two minutes ago.  And cilantro and mint and dill.

SOB.

7

That reminds me of some plans I have for the garden this year.  What better time to share them -- it is, after all, traditionally seed-ordering month.

I'm not growing any squash this year.  Last year I had both squash bugs AND squash borers, zillions of them.  I'm positive their babies are all wintering over under the mulch, and my garden isn't big enough to put any distance between the old and new beds.  So I'm going to try sweet potatoes instead.  I love them, and I hear they are very easy to grow.  As a bonus, they're not troubled by any of the pests that trouble the rest of the garden because they're in a whole different family, the morning glory family.  And really they don't taste very different from pumpkin.  Plus, SWEET POTATO FRIES.  Need I say more?

I'd like to try New Zealand spinach.  Apparently it tastes just like spinach (which I love) but can withstand the heat.  And since I've tried three years to grow spinach and gotten ONE tiny plant which promptly bolted, I think it's worth a try.

Last year I had three red potatoes start sprouting, so I planted them.  One rotted but the other two gave me some nice little new potatoes.  And though I don't have close to enough room to supply our potato needs (at least 5 lbs a week!), I figure I'll plant a few this year so we can have a couple meals of new potatoes.  I wish I could replace store potatoes with homegrown though.  I can't afford organic, and it's depressing to know that potatoes are THE most heavily sprayed crop and also the one we eat a tremendous volume of.  John and the kids love them, and when you don't eat gluten, what else is there?  (Quinoa and rice are not favorites, sadly.)

And I have a resolution: if my homegrown starts don't succeed, given my lack of light in this house, I will buy some.  Last year I kept trying to manage with my scrawny half-dead seedlings, and I wasted a lot of garden space waiting for them to catch up, which they never really did.  Which is more expensive, a $2 tomato seedling, or having to buy $2 clamshells of tomatoes EVERY WEEK?  It's an investment that it would be crazy not to make.

More takes at Conversion Diary, as always.  How has your week been?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guest-friendship

Ancient Greek culture put a lot of value on the virtue of xenia, or guest-friendship.  Nowadays, we'd call it hospitality, but hospitality is about the behavior of the host only.  The Greeks used the word xenos for both the guest and the host, and each had duties.  For either the guest or the host to harm the other in any way was considered extremely evil.  For Paris to steal Helen away from Menelaus was bad, but for him to do it when an invited guest at Menelaus' house was just evil.

John is a Benedictine oblate -- that is, a layperson attached to an abbey -- and part of Benedictine spirituality is hospitality.  I'm all about that.  I don't really like going places, but I love having people over.  I'm always paying attention when I visit someone else, trying to learn what specific things they do that make me feel so comfortable and welcome.  I have a few hospitality idols, like my grandma and my friend's mother, who seem to have it in their blood.  It's something I want to learn.

Hospitality has gotten more complicated as I get older.  Having someone crash in your college dorm room is no big deal.  You know they will ask for what they need, or just root through your stuff.  If they didn't bring their own towel, they will go without because they know perfectly well you only have one.  When you have a house of your own, people expect a little more.  And then when you have kids, things get even more complicated -- how to visit another house, or entertain people at yours, without unduly disrupting the kids' lives?

After a few times traveling with kids and many times having guests at my house (despite having very Spartan accommodations), I'm sort of getting the hang of it.  So here are a few tips.

For the host:

When someone arrives at your house, whether for a short or a long time, you show them where to sit and offer them something to drink.  This is just our custom, but I always forget the drink part!  In some cultures, you would not dream of having someone over at any time of day and not feeding them.  In ours, food is always nice but not required unless they're staying for a good amount of time around mealtime.  But if I'm having people over with kids for more than an hour or so, I always provide a decently healthy snack.  Kids get hungry often, and it just would seem rude to me to expect a friend to pack snacks for their kids when they are at my house, with a functioning kitchen.

When someone is staying overnight, go over policies soon after they arrive so they know what to do.  Show them where they will sleep, give them a clean towel, explain anything they need to know about the workings of the shower or your family's schedule.  If the house gets noisy at six, you want to tell them that ahead of time so they know not to stay up late!  And if they come in very tired, it'll be a relief to them to have everything out of the way.

Make the accommodations as comfortable as you can.  All we've got is a couch, and that's a bit unfortunate and does limit whom we can have over.  If you have a guest room, that's great, but if not, alter the room where they're staying to make it as comfortable as possible.  Try to make it dark -- cover flashing electronics and shut the curtains.  Confine pets if you can.  Provide several blankets so they can adjust how warm they are.  Tell the guests what the accommodations will be while they're still planning their trip.  I would hate to have someone come out here expecting to be comfortable and sleep all night when really they will be on the couch with the cats getting in their face.  If the guests have kids, you're just going to have to ask how they want to sleep.  They are likely to be comfortable sharing a room with their kids, if they're little and wake at night.  But ask to be sure.

Make sure food is readily available.  When I'm having a single person over, I usually just make sure to have good meals at regular times and everyone's okay with that.  I also make sure to offer coffee and tea in the morning.  If kids are coming, though, it's best to show the parents the kitchen and what they can eat.  I always feel great when a host has thought of my kids' needs and has collected some kid-friendly snacks in advance: fruit, milk, crackers and cheese, whatever.  Since kids' schedules are all different, especially if they're jetlagged or thrown off from traveling, you won't be able to stay on top of feeding the kids snacks.  Just make it possible for the parents to do it.  And never feed someone else's child without checking with the parents.  Feeding a kid is a complicated job and the parents are pretty much guaranteed to have some preferences about it.

Entertain the guests.  This can be really hard if they're around for awhile and your life isn't super interesting.  It's my main challenge.  But I've found that everyone who likes us enough to visit just loves playing with my kids.  So that's one fun thing.  For a long visit, it's pretty much impossible to chat the entire time.  Let the guests know they can use your computer, give them your wireless password if they need it, and tell them they can browse your bookshelves.  Nothing more boring than sitting in someone's house and not being sure if you can poke around and find something to do.

Make sure the guests know to ask for anything else they want.  I don't know why people are so reluctant to do this, but sometimes it takes me asking a few times before they admit they actually do need something.

For the guest:

In my mind, gifts are optional.  Sometimes guests bring them, and sometimes not.  For a family with toddlers, some fruit is a great gift.  No extra "stuff" in the house, healthy, and pretty much all toddlers like fruit.  Or bringing a small toy will endear you to the littles.  However, I think the custom of the hostess gift is dying out a bit, so if you don't have anything to bring, it's fine.

ASK for what you want.  This isn't just being nice when the host tells you that.  It's really exhausting to spend your time guessing what your guest might want when they are sitting around shrugging every time you ask.  It makes me feel like I have to keep making more food, planning more entertainment, because if they won't say what they want, there's a possibility they want those things.  I know I have sat quietly in someone's house wondering when the next meal was because I was starving but didn't want to be rude.  I would hate a guest of mine to be in that bind.  If the host keeps asking if you are comfortable and you really are, don't just shrug and say you're fine.  I always suspect people are just trying to stay out of the way but they actually need something.  Try saying, "I am just great and it's so nice to just sit here playing with your kids!"  Or something expressing clearly that you aren't hungry or thirsty or bored, that you are comfortable and enjoying yourself.

Entertain yourself some of the time.  Even extroverts need some downtime, and when two households are stuck together, it tends to take away everyone's downtime.  If you have your own room, retiring to it for awhile will take the pressure off your host to entertain you and might give them a chance to do some housework.  If not, have a book you can bring out when things get quiet and dull, or something else quiet to do.  That will let your host know that you are taking some quiet time and she doesn't have to engage you in conversation at the moment.

Try to be tolerant of inconvenience.  If there are kids, they will shriek at night and wake you up.  They will probably be in your face at six a.m. before their parents can stop them.  They may reach across at mealtimes and smear something on you.  If you laugh it off and show you don't mind, it will reassure your host.

Offer to help with the housework.  Better yet, just jump in and do the dishes.  You don't have to take over or spend your whole day on it, but your presence does add to the workload, so it's nice to offset that if you can.  If you ask "Can I help with anything?" they might say no just because they can't think of something off the top of their head.  Just start clearing dishes or offer to help with a specific thing.  Even if you're only over for dinner, helping clean up can save the hosts the unpleasantness of a giant tower of dishes at 10 pm when you go home.  If you're over for a long time, offering to make dinner a time or two can be nice.

Be considerate of bedtime.  Most families have very set times and routines for going to bed.  You probably can't help much with this (though you can offer), but it's a good time to stay quiet and out of the way.  Don't have loud conversations with the other guests while the parents are trying to rock a baby to sleep in the next room.

Hospitality is hard

I love having guests, but sometimes it's hard too.  It's a level of intimacy that can be uncomfortable, inviting someone else into your space, the place where you retreat from the world.  Your home is the place where you're used to letting it all hang out -- it's scary to let another person in there, especially overnight.  I'm always afraid guests will judge me for the things I let the kids get away with, for their behavior which isn't always stellar, or for how messy the house gets sometimes.  It's awkward to be nursing all the time and wonder if the guests are thinking my kid is too old for that.  And the embarrassment of potty training accidents!

Meanwhile, there's nowhere left to retreat when I'm feeling tired or overwhelmed.  I instinctively drift back to my quiet activities -- reading or the computer -- and then feel bad because I'm neglecting my guest.  You feel the same as a guest -- since you're in someone else's house, where do you go when you want to be by yourself?  There's a reason why most house visits are under a week .... it's tiring and difficult to do much longer, for everyone involved.

And yet, it can be a very heart-opening experience too.  You see how other people live -- and despite the fears of the host, I don't think guests usually judge.  When you really see how someone else lives every day, you see how their life works and the choices they make make a little more sense.  Single people can learn a lot about life with kids by living it for a few days -- and maybe be more prepared for possible future kids of their own.

Any time you open your heart and mind to someone else's view of the world, it makes you a more compassionate person.  Suddenly the distance out of your way you have to go to practice hospitality doesn't seem so far.  It all seems worth it because you are serving someone you love.

Do you like having houseguests? Do you like to be one?

Friday, January 10, 2014

7 quick takes

1

I seem to have run out of steam on agrarianism, and started talking about feminism by accident.  What do you think?  Should I try to wrap up agrarianism with a few more posts, or leap right into feminism because no one actually cares what I think about farming?

Part of why I blog so much about farming is that I have never yet found anyone who wanted to listen to me talk about farming as much as I wanted to talk about it.  But it's the dead of winter and farming isn't even inspiring me lately, so my impulse is to move on.

However, no debate has started on my post about wifely submission, which I thought was so doggone controversial, so I don't know.  Maybe no one's interested in that either.

Got a preference?

2

This past week has been all full of grief and anguish.  Mainly of the toilet variety.

What I mean is that Michael got away from me for two seconds and flushed a handful of tinker toys down the toilet.  I didn't know that's what it was; all I knew is that stuff wasn't going down anymore.  Luckily it didn't overflow, just filled up and slowly drained again.  Leaving, of course, any solid matter behind.  Woohoo.  There are four poopers in the family, so naturally this was not something we could stand for long.

But plumbers are expensive and we did NOT budget for that this month, so John had to do it.  He bought a snake for $12 and a wax seal for $3, took the toilet off its base, turned it upside down, and snaked two tinker toys out of it.  WIN!



Until he got it all put back together and it was doing the same thing still.  The next day he had to do the whole thing over again.  After some time live-tweeting it, some time pricing new toilets (oh, how I want an American Standard that can flush golf balls without choking!), and some more time snaking, he got one more tinker toy out and we were golden.

And then, because he's an overachiever, he took a couple more trips to the hardware store (you know how you can never go just once?) and fixed the problem it's had for months where it randomly runs.  So despite all the grief and despair and frustration, we ended up with a more working toilet than we started with.  And we didn't have to spend $200+ on a new toilet or a plumber's fee.

3

When John posted that he was worried we'd have to hire a plumber and we couldn't afford it, no fewer than three people offered to wire us money.  Kinda moved me, that people can be so kind.

And, on the other hand, it kind of ticked me off because we're not THAT poor and there are people ACTUALLY STARVING in other countries and if you have $200 to spend on helping poor people, why not give it to someone starving and we'll just poop in the yard till next paycheck?

Ah well, there's something to be send for charity beginning at home, and it was sweet, so I am grateful.  But I'm glad we didn't need to take money from anyone to fix our problem.  I hope if those people really had that money to spare (and weren't trying to pull it from their grocery budget or something) they found a REAL poor person to give it to.

4

It's hard to be hard up for cash and not be REALLY poor.  You feel guilty pulling the poor card ("we can't give because we're poor") when you have a refrigerator full of delicious food, warm clothes on our backs, and an excellent credit rating because all your bills are paid on time.  I don't know what to call it.  We are not so poor we need help (mostly).  Just poor enough that the pleas for "just give us what you'd normally spend on fast food in a month!" don't work on us because we don't really have a "discretionary spending" spot on the budget.  We are truly wealthy in every way that matters.  But it is a cross to me to get heart-rending letters asking for help and not having the money to give those charities.

But dang it if we couldn't use a raise this year.  John is supposed to get one, but it's "waiting for approval" still.  So if you feel inclined, say a prayer that we get it.  Or, heck, shoot for the moon -- pray for a new job.  One with less travel.

5

I am sure pretty much everyone is going to post this week about how cold it was and how they were cooped up indoors for however long.  And yes, it was pretty cold.  We put extra pajamas and blankets on the kids because their room is on the side of the house that the cold wind was coming from.  But other than that, it didn't affect me.  I never leave the house anyway.

Well, not never, but .... in winter .... a week without leaving the house is pretty standard for me.

I felt bad for John having to go out in it though.  It was 25 below at the worst of it, as he was leaving for work.  I don't know when it's ever been that cold here in Virginia.  My broccoli plants, which I was picking teeny broccolettes from up to last month, are now quite dead.

6

My sister-in-law Therese is going to be visiting us this week.  She's on what John calls her "farewell tour," because she's leaving for the convent.  That makes her the third sister-in-law I've lost to the convent.  And I do mean lost .... what else do you call it when someone chooses a life that means you're not likely to see them again?

It seems in the Catholic world, rejoicing for someone is the only acceptable option.  And it is true that no other person belongs to you or owes it to you to stay local.  But I think a little bit of mourning is in order when you lose someone you love to a vocation you didn't choose.

Also, I have decided to only be friends with my wildest sister-in-law now.  I don't trust the others not to run off and be nuns.

7

Pic of the kids, because I never post enough of those:


More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Word for 2014

Do you ever choose a word to define your direction for the coming year?  Last year's word was "seek."  I did do some seeking.  Can't exactly say I did much finding, sigh.  But I have found that between the openmindedness of 2012 and the search for the truth in 2013, I have in fact learned a lot.  My opinions aren't always as simple, but they seem more honest.  With time, I have shed ideas that I just picked up by osmosis and never considered, and replaced them with a few things that I really am sure of.

When I look at my faith life, I don't feel I've made much progress.  I still am plagued by the same doubts I was a year ago.  But in one respect I've grown, and it's this: I have stopped holding back because of doubt, thinking I can't do anything until I'm more sure.  Instead I have been actively seeking truth -- and that means actual reading and praying.  I haven't been letting doubt be an excuse for apathy.  And I do feel good about that.

It didn't take me long to choose my word for 2014.  It never does -- every year I've done this, there is one word that comes straight to my mind, and there is never any other word that seems right.  When I closed my eyes and asked myself, "What is the word?" the answer was instant:

WAIT.

It's strange, last year was more active than previously, and I thought maybe this year I'd "close" a little more and have a word with more answers attached.  But "wait" feels right.

It first occurred to me from thinking about the kids.  The number one thing I want to do better as a mother is to yell less.  I get caught by surprise by a disaster -- oatmeal poured on the floor, milk spilled on the couch -- and before I even know what I'm doing, I'm yelling at everybody.  It's like I feel the need to react instantly.  I need to remember that unless someone is bleeding, it's always okay to wait until I am calm before trying to act.  To bite back the first two or three things that come to my mouth and wait till I have something kind to say.  So this meaning of "wait" is just about patience, being patient with my children.

But with faith as well, I think it's time to wait.  Someone pointed out (it was probably Enbrethiliel) that faith is a gift.  I got upset, because I thought, "Is the only reason I struggle to believe because God refuses to give me a gift he's given so many other people?"

Then I remembered that I am 27 years old.  I don't know how many years I will live, but God does.  I don't think he intends to leave me hanging forever.  I think he has a path in mind for me to come to him, and if I draw as close to him as I can and wait for his response, he will come to me.  All I have to do is be there, to stay where he can find me, doing my part, but without imagining it all depends on me.  God's way of finding me, my way of finding him, is unique and maybe it's going to take time.

"With an anvil-ding
     And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as spring
     Through him, melt him but master him still:
  Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
     Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
  Make mercy out of all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King."
                        (Gerard Manley Hopkins, of course)

The third thing that is troubling me right now is impatience.  How badly I want to have a farm.  How little progress it seems like we're making.  We can't get out of here until we've paid down our debt (or raised our income by a lot), and the progress is so slow.  It seems I'll never have my dream, not even a tiny bit of it.

But every single month, we have less debt.  It may be a tiny bit, but we are moving.  Despite all the setbacks, the car repairs and the inflation and the grocery bill that's double what we spent a few short years ago, we are making progress.  All I have to do is wait.  God willing, we'll get a raise or a better job and be able to make faster progress, but even if we don't, that debt will be gone someday.  I need to stop complaining.

Last of all, I need to deal with my worries for the future.  When I think about the future lately, I start to panic.  What if inflation really does spiral completely out of control, what will we do if John loses his job, how do I know things will be okay?  And the answer to that, too, is wait.  I can't solve tomorrow's problems today.  All I can solve (if I'm lucky) are today's problems.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Do you have a word for 2014?
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