Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Trip with Michael

I didn't tell you all ahead of time, but this past weekend I went down to San Jose for a wedding.  I took Michael, but Marko stayed home with Daddy.  I was very intimidated at the prospect of all that traveling, but Meredith has been a dear friend for years.  Besides, we were able to pay for almost everything with miles and points, so the whole trip cost very little.  Perks of having a husband who travels for work!

Random thoughts from my trip:

*I've traveled with kids of a number of different ages, and if I had to choose, the very last age child I would choose to fly with is twelve months.  They are so busy.  They don't nap a lot, and they want to spend all their time running.  If you stop them from running, they cry.  They are not interested in books or any kind of sitting-still activity other than maybe eating.  Though Michael isn't a big eater.  So no wonder I was nervous.

But, I hadn't accounted for the fact that twelve months is one of the cutest ages there is.  So people will take things from a twelve-month-old that they wouldn't accept from a three-year-old.  Things like him grabbing them, stealing their peanuts, untying their shoes, poking them, waking them up, and so forth.  He spent all the plane trips running up and down the aisle.  Luckily no one objected, so as long as the seat belt light was off, I just went with it.  And everyone was absolutely charmed!

At our destination, it was even more pronounced.  Everyone loved Michael.  Soon, hopefully, I'll be sent hundreds of photos from dozens of cameras from all the people who followed Michael around taking pictures.  I was right in thinking there was no need to bring a camera!  People saved him crackers, bananas, anything they could think of.  They offered to hold him, and he was surprisingly fine with that.  (My arms thanked him; they were sore from the flight out.  Lugging 30 lbs. around three airports is no joke.  It's even less of a joke when the carrier you counted on is dripping wet from a leaky water bottle.)

Sure, he was a ton of trouble.  He kept taking off in random directions, smashing candle holders, dumping the sand out of luminarias, crawling under pews and plane seats, and pushing emergency buttons.  But no one minded.  In the end I relaxed and just went with the flow.

*Everything went smoothly: flights, hotel rooms, rental car.  When I flew United last year, they were extremely inconsiderate and unhelpful.  This time I flew Delta and they were amazing -- always with a kind word, letting me preboard, helping with my carryon, and keeping bananas in the galley for Michael.  They didn't fuss about my basically never sitting down.  I checked in online as well, so there was very little time spent waiting for anything.

The rental car people were also very nice -- upgrading my car so there would be room for the carseat and not charging me for all the gas I forgot to top off.  This was Enterprise; I'd definitely use them again.  Though it does amaze me how much renting a car costs; it was my main expense.

*It definitely hit home to me this time that what we do in the airport is just security theater.  Taking off shoes is pointless enough.  But taking off shoes unless you're under 12 or over 75 is just nonsensical.  The backscatter scanners are bad enough, but it turns out if you're traveling with kids you don't have to do it.  I sailed through the metal detector with just a wrap on and no one patted me down either.  They swabbed my hands for explosives, but I don't really see how that would catch any of what the backscatter is intended to do.  Don't get me wrong, I am thankful not to be groped.  But if they can just waive the security requirements whenever they want to be nice, doesn't that suggest that those requirements aren't that vital after all?

*The wedding was, hands down, the most picturesque event I've ever attended.  It was at an old Spanish mission.  The wedding itself was in the adobe chapel, and the reception was in the cloister rose garden.  There were luminarias lining all the walkways and candles floating in the fountain.  A boy in a mariachi costume played Mexican music on a harp (surprising, but sounded great).  The food was amazing.  Meredith's dress looked like what Arwen would wear if she were visiting Mount Olympus, if you can imagine that.  When the sun went down over the desert hills and the stars came out, it felt like heaven on earth.

I often feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, and peopled-out at big parties like this.  But this time I didn't, and I think the lovely and peaceful environment is why.  We weren't packed in a noisy ballroom; we could meander among rose bushes with a cocktail and just chat with people.  Much mellower.  Poetic, beauty-loving, highly-sensitive INFP's like Meredith and I really do benefit by a well-prepared environment.

Not that it wasn't also noisy and fun.  I danced to Gangnam Style.  Somewhere there is a picture of me doing the horse dance with Michael completely passed out on my back.  I soon got tired and just sat down and laid him on my lap -- where he slept for several hours.  I finally left the party at almost midnight.  I haven't stayed at any party that late since I was married.

*My favorite conversation topic at the wedding was "why Meredith is so awesome."  That's the nice thing about a wedding.  Whoever you meet has at least one thing in common with you -- they like the bride and groom.  Meredith is a sweet, kind, and loyal person, but more than anything, she's something of a seer.  She sees things other people don't see, and notices what other people don't notice.  And because of that, she turns our eyes to those beautiful things.  She can be a canary in a coal mine -- if Meredith isn't happy, look around.  It's probably because of some subtle thing other people have missed, but which is unconsciously bothering them too.

I don't actually know her new husband well, but I quizzed his friends at the wedding and they all say he's a good guy and crazy about her.  So I am not worried.

*The homily was amazing.  Unfortunately I added so many of my own thoughts to it, I couldn't tell you which were the priest's ideas and which were mine!  But I walked out of the church thinking, "If married love is an image of God's love, I need to love my husband more perfectly so he can see more clearly how God loves him."  Two of my married friends were also there without their husbands, and all of us were feeling miffed when the priest suggested we say "I love you" to our spouses.  We certainly were inspired, but then we had to wait whole days to do it!

That's all I can think of for now, but hopefully I will get my hands on some pictures and post them soon!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Michael is one

A whole year old, can you believe that?  Actually, a year and three days, by the time I have sufficiently recovered from that birthday to be able to write about it.

Birthdays are so stressful I am tempted to cancel them all and just inform the kids of their new age with no cake and no presents.  Cake makes them whiny.  Presents make them quarrel.  Little puzzle pieces and building blocks are scattered all over my house.  I know the boys are happy and well-loved, but YIKES!  Our house is something under 1,000 square feet and the toys are beginning to pile up.

But, at long last, I have found a home for most of the new stuff and the new stuff is getting boring enough that they no longer have to fight over it, so it looks like today might be a relatively okay day.

It's hard to think of what to say after a whole year.  I mean, there goes the babyhood of my second child!  Gone in a flash!

It's hard, him being the second.  I haven't had the time to spend on him that I did on Marko.  No long, peaceful afternoon naps with him on my chest.  No time spent while he was napping looking at pictures of him.  No eager awaiting of each new milestone.  It was more like, "What?  He's three months old?  What?  Six months?  How is he crawling?  When did he learn to do that?"

It's easy to be overshadowed by a personality as big as Marko's.  I do make sure to spend some just-Michael time, but it's usually right at bedtime, to say nothing of those lovely three-a.m. playtimes.  And while Marko is there, I make sure to actually interact with Michael too.  I just feel guilty that he will never ever get as much attention as Marko got.  Though perhaps that's a good thing.

 I just feel almost like he's a stranger.  I've only known him a year.  How am I supposed to know what he's like?  I can come up with pages of description of Marko, but with Michael it's hard to say what's his personality and what's a stage.

As a newborn, he was super clingy, much more than Marko.  He stayed latched on for pretty much the first three months, with pauses to upchuck everything again.  I could barely put him down.  And then around three months old he suddenly became a much "easier" baby.  Still nursing a lot, but willing to be down in between.

He's a bad sleeper like Marko is.  No, scratch that.  He's worse.  At a year old Marko mostly slept through the night.  Michael hasn't done it once.  But he goes back to sleep with relative ease, and it's nice to have him in bed for that.  He's more accepting of being touched and snuggled than his brother.

He's an achiever like Marko is.  Scratch that.  He's more so.  Crawling at, what, seven months?  Cruising a couple days later. Walking at ten months.

I thought it was my fault Marko startled at everything because our house was so quiet.  Nope.  Our house is always loud and Michael cries at a sneeze.  He's used to "usual" sounds (dog barking, Marko screaming) but they still wake him up.  And they both go bananas if I try to vacuum, so I don't even turn it on anymore.

Michael doesn't seem to mind strangers, but he doesn't smile at them much either.  Sometimes he does.  Usually he just keeps going, going, going as usual, exploring his environment.

He loves to be outside, to roll around on my bed, to grab the cat, and to climb on things.  The climbing is pretty constant.  If I look away for a minute, I come back to see him crawling on the table or sitting on my laptop.  There have been some heartstopping moments.  Luckily he is not much fazed by small bumps and bruises.

He's not really clingy anymore.  If he doesn't want to be up, he will fight you to get down.  He is on the go most of the time.  But there are still moments when he locks himself to me like a barnacle and puts his arms around my neck ... and as restrictive as that is, it's also really sweet because I know he won't want to do it forever.

He looks different from Marko now, a little at least.  He has that little upturned upper lip that gives his mouth a different (adorable) shape.  His eyes are also a bit farther apart and a lighter blue-gray.

His hair is getting a little longer and curlier at the back.  I love the curls.  I always twist them a bit in the tub to make them curlier ... but then John smooths them out because he doesn't like curls.  Sigh.

Michael is about 30 pounds, but he's not hugely fat anymore.  He's leaned out a lot and is pretty tall.  He has a few makeshift words: ssss for nurse, wa for water, eeeech for eat, pa for up.  I think.  We have to guess a lot, but he definitely is saying something.

I guess I'm mostly just looking forward to seeing how he unfolds into his own unique self.  He seems, at this stage, to be a "charming chimp-child" in the words of Harvey Karp, but another year should show me a lot more of his personality.

Happy birthday sweet Michaeleen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

7 quick takes


I'm beginning to think I should make a habit of these quick takes.  I have too many blog ideas.  Many of them could be a whole super-long post of their own, but I don't have time to write all those posts!  I think it's nicer anyway to give a teaser of a few ideas than 1,000 rambling words every time.  I don't edit myself much here, but sometimes I think I should.  I go really long.


On Monday I transplanted broccoli and cabbage seedlings.  Those things have been through a lot.  First Michael grabbed the tray and flipped it onto the floor, but they actually survived being scooped up and shoved back into the dirt.  Then they were almost ready to go, when I put them out to harden off and get some sun ... and then I got a fever and passed out on the couch instead of doing my evening chores, and yep -- I left them out there.  It froze overnight and the poor things were stone dead in the morning.  I watered them anyway because it's amazing what seedlings will spring back from -- but no, they were gone.  So I started alllll over.  By that point it was so late that I sowed a few outdoors as well.  I have trouble sprouting things in my garden, but I thought it was worth a shot.

So when I planted out the seedlings, sure enough, there were tiny sprouts in the garden as well.  A bit patchy, but they're there!  They are smaller than the indoor ones, but healthier-looking and not at all leggy like the inside ones are.  I'm curious to see what does better.  My money's on the outside-sprouted ones.  That's always been the case for me.  Outside, the germination rates are low, but if anything does come up, it's way healthier than what I transplant.  Someday I'd like to sprout everything outside and save myself a lot of trouble.  Our growing season is long, and I have no good place to grow seedlings indoors.  I end up moving them from window to window all day; it's a tremendous hassle and I'm always killing them.  I've never been able to sprout tomatoes or peppers outside, but I'm going to try again this year.


Oh, and there was something else amazing in there!  Carrot seedlings!  I have tried and tried and tried to grow carrots.  Last year I sowed them three or four times; no luck.  They're slow to sprout and they won't grow if you let them dry out.  I heard to sprout them under cardboard to keep the soil moist, but that didn't work either.  This year I just sprinkled them on the surface of the soil and covered them with a bit of sand.  (Our clay tends to turn into concrete, especially if you're always watering it, so it traps seeds underneath and they can't break through.  Saves on the weeding, but you can hardly direct--sow anything.)  Sure enough, I had dozens of seedlings.  So now I'm in the shocking position of having to thin them.  It feels ridiculous and also kind of heartbreaking because I have to choose which carrot babies are going to grow up.  I feel like they all deserve a chance, especially after I've wanted them so badly.

There were a few tiny beet seedlings, too.  Maybe five.  Five beets are better than no beets!  I love them pickled.


It's been kind of a bad-news week, if you haven't noticed.  Let me summarize: Kermit Gosnell (complete with horrid pictures that I wish people wouldn't post), Boston (today at Mass the priest called it "The Boston Massacre" ... that refers to something else, you know), the fertilizer plant in Texas that killed so many people and destroyed FOUR BLOCKS' worth of houses (why does no one seem to care about this one?), a bomb in a cafe in Baghdad, and several earthquakes.  I also read about two viral rapes resulting in suicide, though apparently both happened awhile back.  Did I miss anything?  Don't tell me, I don't want to know.

Sometimes I feel like people with think I'm heartless if I don't read up on all the news after every tragedy.  Don't I CARE?!  Of course I do.  If you can explain to me how reading a news article will bring people back from the dead, I'll do it.  Otherwise I'll take it to prayer and let the rest go.  I don't have to read it all.  The constant onslaught of bad news, gory pictures, and scary movies are a recipe for living in constant fear and misery.  The world seems awfully violent these days, but I think that's partly because our brains are constantly marinating in bad news.

Yesterday, after reading about the fertilizer plant, I felt literally ill.  It was just too much.  I loathe anhydrous ammonia anyway; it's a relative of WWI-era poison gas and incredibly volatile.  Why do we have it in towns, where people live?! But we can't live without it apparently; almost all farms in this country are reliant on it.  And that brings to mind things I've been reading and watching about the farm system in this country.  Last night I watched some of Dirt!  It was pretty good, but the footage of the Dust Bowl really got me.  Tons of topsoil, that had taken thousands of years to lay down, just blowing away in the wind.  And knowing that we've done nothing, nothing at all to make sure this doesn't happen again.  Topsoil is washing out to sea, clogging the Mississippi, poisoning the Gulf of Mexico, along with that nasty ammonia we use to fertilize it because it would be utterly barren on its own.  Food is one of the few things this nation exports; we've had droughts lately; and I know the whole farming system and our entire economy poised on top of it are on wobbly, wobbly ground.


I had to stop.  I can't think that way.  Terror helps nothing.  So some of yesterday and most of today, I left the computer sleeping and did other things.  I weeded my garden and checked on my seedlings.  Then I took my spindle and went out into the beautiful spring day to spin.  I used up the last of my wool roving, but now I have fifty yards of beautiful, 2-ply, laceweight wool yarn.  It's not perfectly even, but I love it all the same.  Wish I knew of anything I could make with that amount of yarn.

This morning I walked to Mass and then the playground.  It was windy and glorious.  I thought: modern life is precarious and terrifying, but the wind and the sky and the earth, these are lasting.  They feed my soul.  There is nothing on the computer that can do for me what nature does.


I suppose you've seen the Dove ads about our perceptions of our own beauty?  I watched them today, but I felt a little doubtful.  I mean, one of the mainstays of female culture is that you never, ever praise your own looks, but you must always, always praise others'.  When everyone around you is complaining about their hips and zits, you learn not to say, "Well, I for one think I look pretty darn good."  And no matter whether a woman is there to hear you, you never ever call her fat or ugly.  Not unless you hate her guts.

Let me come right out and say it: I like the way I look.  I know I'm no model, but I have nice eyes and good hair.  Oh, and my teeth, thanks to a bundle of money and three years of agony, are quite straight.  I'm not thin, but I'm a healthy weight that I don't have to struggle to maintain.

Some days I feel like a hag, especially after I've been watching movies filled with gorgeous people.  But most days I don't watch any TV.  I grew up with a mother who always thought and said I was pretty, and I have a husband who thinks so too.  So why fret?

But I can't say this.  You know I can't.  If someone asked how I look, I would probably answer "close-set eyes, pointy nose, round chin, perpetual ponytail."  Because any other answer would seem vain.  And if I was supposed to describe a stranger, I would automatically try to say nice things.  That's how we are.

There's not really such a thing as an objectively beautiful woman.  There's simply a woman who is considered beautiful by a certain person or a certain cultural standard.  I'm okay with being considered beautiful by those people I love the most, and never mind if I don't fit the cultural standard (I don't, but apparently my kind of figure was popular in ancient Greece.  That's something, right?).

And as I read elsewhere today, beauty is not the most important thing.  Not by a long shot.  John fell for me for my brains.  He thought I was pretty before but that wasn't enough to tempt him until I started showing more of my intellectual side.  And my brains will hopefully last long after my looks are gone.  Beauty may help me get a job or friends, but brains and strength and creativity and resourcefulness can keep me alive even if there is no one else around.  Kindness and patience and understanding will help me be a better mother than the yummiest mummy on the block could be without those things.  Beauty is such a minor thing to get hung up on.  How you look isn't you.


I finished watching The Hunger Games last night.  It was pretty good.  It was nothing to the book though.  The book has so many thoughts in it; how could you include those?  I was really impressed with the costumes and set design though.  The descriptions in the book leave a lot to live up to, but I think they succeeded.

Everybody else's quick takes are here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Crafty stuff

A picture and a video for you.

Here is the mei tai I made from my old favorite skirt.  The red band went around the bottom, so I made it the bottom half of the wrap.  The straps are made from John's old khaki pants.  Upcycling FTW.

And here is a video of my new present from John.  It's a drop spindle, which is something I've been longing for ever since I found out about them.  AKA when I read The Mists of Avalon (which is an awful book but has some cool historical details).

Unfortunately there is no sound (you just would have heard Marko asking over and over if the video is recording and me saying "I hope so, I really have no idea!") and you can't see the spindle once it gets lower.  And you can't really see what exactly I'm doing.  But it's fun anyway.  I'm getting faster and faster at it, though I can still only make one kind of very thin yarn.  Sadly, I am already running low on wool.  I wish I had a sheep.

I know some of my readers knit.  Maybe we can come up with some kind of swap ... once I get more wool.  I can't knit worth anything and crocheting frustrates me.  But I could spin a lot of yarn, send it to you, you knit something gorgeous, send it back to me, and keep the rest.  Think about it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quick takes


Marko had a good birthday.  He was a little disappointed to find that the next day wasn't also his birthday.  But we had cake for a few days, anyway.  He suddenly reached a breakthrough and now knows what a telephone is for, so he had a long conversation with his Aunt Mary on his birthday, and my mom the day after.  It's adorable to watch.


I finally have a double stroller now.  It's this one, the Safety First tandem stroller, only instead of $150 it cost us $30 off Craiglist.  W00t!  It makes walking a lot easier.  I've been going out to the library or church several times a week, and now that I'm in a bit better shape, it's really not a big deal.

For a brief review of the stroller -- it's pretty good.  It's kind of massive.  And long.  And heavy.  But on level ground, that doesn't matter; the wheels are big and it trundles along like nothing.  Of course level ground isn't what I'm dealing with, and it is admittedly a bear to push uphill.  But I think that would happen with anything; I do have sixty pounds of kid now.  (Yes, Michael is 27 pounds at 11 months, and Marko is about 35.)

The real struggle with it is when the road is slightly slanted sideways (as roads usually are).  The stroller always pulls to the side then, and I have to push hard with one hand while pulling with the other to keep it straight.  That leaves me with extremely sore wrists!  And the other day, when I was crossing a steep street, it nearly tipped.  I'm not sure if most large strollers do this, but my umbrella stroller didn't do it to any noticeable degree.  But then yesterday I figured out that you can lock the front wheels, which almost eliminates the issue.

It folds up easily enough, but it's still kind of enormous even when folded.  And heavy; I have to fold it to get it through the laundry room door, and then drag it sideways, and every time I feel like maybe I pulled something.  My least favorite part of it is the back canopy; it doesn't shade much, I can't see Michael through it, and it's always flopping off.  But the one plus is that it is removable.  Most parts are removable, including the front seat, which can be replaced with a carseat.  I haven't tried that feature.

Anyway, I'm glad to have it because it makes getting out of the house SO MUCH EASIER.


Yesterday we went to the river to splash around.  It's literally three blocks from my house, but I always get intimidated by the large hill.  I've gone down there maybe five times in two years.  But it's been scorching the past few days, so I promised Marko we'd go.  And oh boy, was it fun.  There were no bugs at all (for once!), it was hot, the water was cool, and there was pretty much no one there.  I wished for my bathing suit!  Michael and Marko didn't bother wishing for theirs.  Marko was soon wet up to his neck.  Michael stayed at knee depth mostly, but he sat down in the water a couple of times and had to have his diaper taken off.  I spent the whole time trying to stop Michael from eating rocks.

Seriously, that place is a toddler wonderland.  There are little fish and rocks and a dock and a boat launch and little clam shells.  It's shallow very far out.  I just wish I had been more prepared.  I thought I'd go for an hour or so, so no need for sunblock, extra clothes, a snack, etc.  Within ten minutes both kids were wet and I was covered with mud.  I did leave after an hour because I was beginning to get burned (luckily neither kid was), but none of us wanted to go at all.  I'm usually not the one dragging away crying kids, because Marko does know when he's reached his limit most of the time, but he didn't understand what a sunburn means.  And once we got home, he said, "Go get the sunblock and let's go back to the river!"  I was almost tempted.  Almost.  But there is that big hill.

We're going to go there today, first thing.  As long as it's hot and not buggy, I see no reason not to go there every day.  And if I can get John to come with me this weekend, I will get a chance to swim myself.


Since I wrote a post awhile back about health care, I feel I owe it to you to tell you, I'm pretty sure I was wrong.  Yes, I still agree that some degree of health care is something everyone has a right to.  But before I thought that it couldn't possibly be so simple as just high prices.  Then I read this article and I'm completely convinced.  Hospitals could charge much less than they do and still stay in business just fine.  Couldn't we just mandate that hospitals' price sheets are not allowed to be higher than what Medicare pays?  Or even find a way to put an end to the collusion of insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, and watch the prices balance out on their own.

Also, I think there should be a law that, for non-emergency procedures, you must be shown the bill in advance.  Then you are not allowed to be billed more than what they told you it would cost.  I know there are similar laws in some states for mechanics to keep them from ripping you off.  I don't know why people's lives don't merit that kind of safeguard.


I'm upset at the bishop of Detroit right now.  He's said that Catholics who support gay marriage shouldn't receive communion.  I firmly believe that anyone who is in a state of grave sin shouldn't go to communion; that's a teaching of the Church and I've held back myself many times for one reason or another.

But I don't think supporting same-sex civil marriage is a sin.  The infallible teaching of the church states that homosexual acts are sinful.  It has never had any doctrine about what we should do in civil society to keep people from performing them.  The only magisterial document out there on the topic is an advisory piece by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It's helpful, but it's not infallible.  In short: refusing to agree with the CDF about gay civil marriage is not refusing to accept a dogma of the Church, and so it is not the sin of heresy.  I don't see how it's any other sin either.  Perhaps you could argue that you're encouraging others to sin, but I don't see that.  Homosexual people who want to get married are generally already committing homosexual acts.  The question is, do we want to treat them the way we treat married people?  I can see a good Catholic argument either way, neither of which is about encouraging people to sin.  On a point on which there is some permissible doubt, I think it's very wrong to talk about denying people the sacraments.

A dozen years ago, I remember complaining that the US bishops were too liberal.  Now they've turned around quite a bit, but they strike me as very hard-line about a few things where a hard line isn't appropriate.


Speaking of which, I ended up in a facebook debate with someone the other day about a gay man in France who was brutally beaten.  He didn't think it was a big deal, or that we should be talking about it, because the man "brought it upon himself" by his life choices.  I was beating my head against the wall trying to explain to him that his views were antithetical to Christianity, when finally I got him to admit that he actually thinks gays should be executed by the state.

Oooookay.  I just extricated myself from the conversation and let it go.  I'm not going to get anywhere on that one.  But it depresses me.  Lately I've just been in awe of the beauty of my Catholic faith.  I read the words of the Gospels, or the liturgy, or the catechism, and think "Wow.  That's exactly right.  Here I've been holding back studying this stuff out of fear, and instead it's so much better than imagined.  What a good and merciful God we have."

And then some satan like this fellow appears, claiming to have gotten his disgusting beliefs from the Church I believe in, and I want to scream.  Go ahead, believe any lie you want, but do not attempt to convince me that Jesus taught that lie to you.  Don't even go there.  Don't.


Which brings to mind something I've thought often before: to stay Catholic, I have to stop indiscriminately reading stuff written by Catholics.  I can read Pope Francis (obviously), Simcha Fisher, Mark Shea, Elizabeth Esther, and any number of purely spiritual blogs.  I already don't read Rorate Coeli or Father Z or the comments on pretty much anything.  Comments, John often reminds me, can be the dregs of the internet.

Reading things written by atheists can be much, much less harmful to my faith than reading things written by Catholics.  If atheists are wrong, they're just wrong, no harm done.  And if they're right, I can learn from it.  But Catholics always seem to be speaking for the Church, so when they're wrong ... I wind up disheartened.  Though I have definitely learned my lesson: when in doubt, look it up.  There's the Catechism, the Vatican II documents, the Trent documents, and the Catholic Encyclopedia available online.  And odds are, I'm right.  I have had an extensive Catholic education; when my gut tells me that's not what the Church teaches, it's usually right.

On the other hand, just yesterday I was thinking something that Simcha Fisher then posted about: when a Catholic says something publicly that gives scandal or a misconception about what Catholics believe, it kind of is our responsibility to speak up.  She was talking about holocaust deniers, but really it happens everywhere.  It's important to let people know that we're not all like that, that actually our church is opposed to this stuff, that we do very much care when people are dishonest or cruel in the name of our religion.  I know I am not responsible for every nasty Catholic out there and what they choose to do, but they are associated with me in some way and I feel I have to at least try to make up for it.

So I do what I can.  I do speak out about pedophilia, and homophobia, and anti-semitism, and also everything else.  But balance is important too.  I could spend my life trying to set everyone straight, and I just can't.

Seven Quick Takes is a Conversion Diary thing, but I don't know if she's going to put it up this week, seeing as she is in the hospital still, so far as I know.  Say a prayer for her and her newborn baby!

Edited to add: the linkup is being hosted here if you would like to read quick takes from people who are not me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Technology and the free market

I recently read this excellent article by a fellow Christendomite.  I really agree with everything he said, but I want to focus this time on a brief point he made about technology:

All technology has an inner logic that defies our initial expectations, which, as Jerry Mander observes in his so-far excellent In the Absence of the Sacred (yes, on top of this I read books), are invariably positive. The automobile began as an exceptional freedom for the few. Its promulgation, however, rewrote the norms of place, of transit, and of life. It undid public transportation in many parts of the country, left travel an isolated and isolating experience, allowed home and work to be farther apart than they ever have been, divorced man’s social life from his local community, originated the very idea of rush hour, radically increased the loneliness of modern man and the breakdown of social integrity, which in its way doubtlessly contributed to the need that Facebook fills in so many lives.

Would men and women who lived in satisfying local communities really feel any desire to network in such an arcane way? Or would they rather be spending time with their friends and family, doing useful work around the village, and enjoying recreation and the other joys of life in common, a life in common that facilitates true friendship (koina ta twn philwn)? Wouldn’t they have smashed the first car to pieces if they had known what it would have done to their way of life?

John disagreed with this.  He likes cars.  You can go places in them.  And I have to admit, you can get to the hospital in quite a hurry if you have a car.  You can visit family who live far away.  You can hold down a city job without having to actually live in a crowded, dirty city.  Cars are handy.

But how did we go from having a car to drive to church on Sundays or drive our neighbors to the hospital to spending half our lives in the darn contraption?  I can see the use of cars, but sometimes I feel like most people spend all their time leaping from one place to another, stressing themselves out and wearing themselves out, just because they're convinced they have to.

Personally, I find leaving the house to be exhausting.  A day on which I get in a car and go someplace is usually a day on which I do nothing else.  Since Marko was born, I've had so much energy and been much happier.  Sure, my diet has been better and I like having him around.  But I think a lot of it is that I don't have to jet off far from home to spend all my energy on something that doesn't fulfill me.  I used to worry that I was agoraphobic.  But then I thought maybe it's the rest of the world that's weird.  Most of us are trained from an early age to leave the house every day for school.  Maybe they're so used to it that they don't get tired when they have to go to work every day.  On the other hand, maybe it's still taking its toll and they just don't realize it.  After all, many of our forebears stayed on their own property the majority of the time -- if they left to go to town or to church or visiting, it was a bigger deal and not something they would want to do every day.

And that's just how exhausting it is to me.  Kids, being prehistoric creatures, handle it even worse.  Some scream the entirety of every car ride.  Others, like mine, nod off to sleep almost instantly and then think that five-minute nap is all they need.  Older kids are famous for fighting in the car.  And then they spend all their time at the final destination getting more and more tired and overstimulated until you tell them it's time to go home and they fall to pieces.

There is a fantastic description of the "family day out" in The Idle Parent, but it's too long to quote in full.  Let me pull a few bits:

There can be no more absurd invention of modern industrial society than the family day out.  All week you have been stressed out at work, as you have tried to conform to someone else's idea of who you should be.  You are tired, grumpy, and guilty because you have hardly seen your children.  It's time, you reflect, to give the kids a treat, do something together.  I know!  Let's pile everyone into the car and join all the other desperate families at the local theme park!  We can spend a pile of cash there and everything will be all right again ....

The trouble starts with the inexpressible headache of getting everybody out of the house.  Before children, I used to just stroll out of the house.  Now this process cannot be achieved without an hour of screaming, searching for lost socks and shoes, huffing, puffing, shouting, cursing Britax and their cruel inventions in the name of child safety. . . . Then the real hell begins.  The three children, tightly bound in the back of the car, start lashing out at each other.  Each child has perfected their own uniquely irritating crying noise. Both mother and father now start shouting. . . .

Soon you arrive at the theme park, and a sense of being conned overwhelms you.  You are being ripped off, commodified, victimized, your weakness profited from . . . The theme park is a strangely lonely place.  Hundreds mill past each other but rarely speak, like mute zombie families. . . . The children constantly demand more rides.  At the end of the day you go to the gift shop, cunningly placed at the exit, and you say "no" a thousand times.  The child is full of frustration because he has glimpsed forbidden delights: imagine what his parents could have bought him if they weren't so mean or poor.

It goes on and on, and it's all so true.  Leaving the house with kids is exhausting.  And there's always this feeling that you are being changed from a human being into a consumer.

That's the worst of it, the constant advertising, the marketing, the capitalism.  There, I said it: I hate capitalism.  In theory, a free market is supposed to mean that anyone can buy what they want from whom they want, and anyone can make a living selling what people want.  But instead it's become this vast science where people spend their entire lives trying to get people to want more things.

Every blessing of the modern world is a mixed blessing.  Cars get you where you want to go faster and with less effort . . . but they can bring us so far from home we don't even know where we are anymore.  They certainly have emptied my own neighborhood; it's a wasteland during the day, no one is there at all.  Modern medicine saves lives, but every drug comes with a side effect -- and a price.  We're spending all of our money on pills, and it seems to be impossible to tell which pills are curing us and which are making us sicker or just making a buck for a pharmaceutical company.  And the internet . . . it lets me Skype with my mother in Korea, but it also sucks up my time, makes me irritable and distracted, fills me with so many ideas I never have time to reflect on, keeps me from actually interacting with the real people I meet.

But with respect to cars, as with internet or modern medicine or any other invention, we do have a choice.  That is the blessing of the free market, we don't have to partake.  But we have to be conscious.  In our current market-driven world, we can't just drift along and do what everyone else does.  We'll just end up broke, in debt, and unfulfilled.  There is a great deal of pressure to just keep buying, but in most cases, there's no actual force.  You can opt out.

The temptation is always there to opt out completely; to live in the woods and never buy a thing, never use anything I didn't build with my own hands.  But there are reasons not to.  There's the human desire for community, and it turns out it can get lonely in the woods.  There are student loans and no money to buy the farm of one's dreams.  There are building codes that mean the sort of wattle-and-daub house I dream of would be illegal to live in.  And of course there is the man I married, who makes his living with a computer and is happy with that.  I'd rather have him than anything else.

My solution has been to try to be intentional.  About everything.  Should I buy this thing, or should I make it?  Should I have a baby in the hospital, or find another way?  Should I drive, or can I walk it?  We are both extremely intentional about leaving the house.  Since we are both introverts, we don't go out unless it is either unavoidable or something we really want to do.  I don't see us every growing into the sort of family that struggles to preserve a family dinner every night -- we don't like going out every evening; that's miserable.

Some people think it's silly to be this hesitant.  Why bother growing tomatoes?  They're only a couple of bucks, why go to all that work?  Why buy used when you can buy new?  Why walk when you can drive?  And why the heck would you have a baby in your dirty old bedroom when you can do it in a gleaming white operating room?

The answers are varied.  But the short answer is that every time-saving invention that takes drudgery away takes something else away too.  It takes a little independence away, and the satisfaction of a job well done.  It takes away your freedom to have exactly what you want, and you have to settle for what's on the rack instead.  It takes away your freedom to work less, to take an unpaid day off, to pass up the chance for overtime, because there are so many things that have to be paid for.  (I dream of a day when we can choose to earn less!  But we work toward that by choosing to buy less and pay debt.)

And then there are ethical questions: was this shirt made by wage slaves?  Was this tomato grown by depleting the water table in California and poisoning lakes with pesticide?  I just finished Empires of Food, a book which got me quite convinced that our current food system is poised for catastrophe.  Wouldn't the smart thing to be to make careful choices about what kind of agriculture I'm supporting?  Every time I make something myself, I control the labor and the resources; I know for sure I'm not exploiting anyone, and I can't know that very easily when I'm shopping at Walmart.

Basically, if I make a choice to use a new technology or obtain something from the market, I want it to be a conscious decision, not something I do by default.  Nowadays you can outsource just about anything.  You can hire a party planner or a personal shopper.  You can hire a nanny or even a baby-naming consultant.  But surely everyone has some things that are too important to outsource, that they want just so and therefore they will do them themselves.

I just have a lot of things like that.  I'm not a Luddite.  I just am very aware that when I get a machine to do something for me or buy a product to enjoy, that I have to be careful that it's me who's the master, and not the machine.  I have a fear of turning out like the people in WALL-E, pure consumer, while missing out on all the best things that make us human.

I just hope that I can strike that balance.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Marko is three

What the heck?  Wasn't he just two?

Only if I look back at old pictures, I know it's been awhile.  This is what he looked like when he was two:

 Gulp.  I thought he was sooo big.  Now those clothes don't fit him.

He was scared of his birthday candles.  Awww.

That sweet long hair!  I had to buzz it yet again today because the bald spots were so bad.  I can't remember if I've mentioned that he pulls it out.  He does it as he's falling asleep or when he's reading a book.  That's what I get for thinking I'd finally broken him of the habit of pulling hair!  He just stopped pulling mine and moved on to his. Hence the Marine haircut.  It makes me so sad.

If that's bad, look at this.  This is him two years ago, on his first birthday:

Whoa.  Michael is bigger than that.  

And there's his first-ever bite of cake.  He ate the frosting off, but detected the stealth nutritional value in my low-sugar, gluten-free cake.  This year I am not making that mistake.  Chocolate cupcakes all the way.  He helped me make them and licked the whisk.

How do I have a kid old enough to help me bake?  Aren't I, like, in high school still?  No?

If that's not bad enough, we can go back three years and look at this one.  I don't even remember this.  Except ... when I think about it ... yes, I can.  I had had a horrible, horrible day.  But I was glad to see him.

I can't really remember, though, what it was like not to have him around.  I know that there must have been a time with no Marko.  But how boring my life must have been!  How lonely!  What long naps I took ... and baths ... and days on the couch doing nothing but reading ... well, it wasn't all bad.  But it's better now.  I'm so glad to have this kid in my life.  He's three.  And three is an awesome age.  Every year he blossoms a little more, shows us a bit more of who he really is. 

He's a fun guy.  He's adventurous and always got something going on upstairs.  He's a worrier.  He's a little nervous around strangers, but he warms up after a bit.  He loves Daddy and the dog and playing outside.  He hates being micromanaged.  He likes to do things all by himself -- except when he's feeling little and just wants to be fed, dressed, and carried.  He's got a lot to say.

His favorite thing in the world is having something useful or helpful to do.  He might drag his feet on using the potty or going to bed, but ask him for help sorting silverware or emptying the dryer and he announces, "I will!  I will!" and runs to do it.  He can be two hands full when we take him out to the store, but tell him what to put in the cart and he rises to the occasion.

When he plays with another kid, he is okay with being led around by the hand and dragged into games.  But within an hour or two, he starts to pull back and want to play by himself ... and if he doesn't get that, he falls apart.  He can be bossy sometimes with us, but with other kids he is the follower as often as not.  He freaks out if things are too different, if people sit in the wrong chairs or wear the wrong clothes or do things in the wrong order.  It makes him happy to do things the same way every time.

Sometimes I wish I could turn the clock back and have him be my baby again.  I can't imagine I really was enjoying him enough then.  Sure, there were hours and hours I spent with him just asleep on my chest, watching him doze and smelling his head ... but I feel like I must have missed some, have not been paying full attention, because if I had been, it couldn't possibly have passed by so fast.

And yet I don't want to go back.  Because Marko is fully himself now too, and just as much a delight as ever.  I don't want him to grow any bigger because he is perfect now.  Still, the thought of him continuing to unfold and learn and grow is so exciting to me.  I can barely wait to see what he'll do next.

So for now, I will enjoy three-year-old Marko.  He's a ton of fun, and I want to enjoy every minute.  Three years has taught me one thing, at least -- it won't last.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Let this be the year

The year that you start gardening, that is!

People think of gardening as difficult, a specialized skill.  It's not.  It's easier than cooking, and (in my opinion) just as basic a skill.  And then some people think that gardening is a lot of work, which it isn't unless you want it to be.  If you want to garden for exercise, grow topiaries or roses or some other difficult thing.  But if you want to throw seeds in the ground and get free food, most vegetables are quite amenable to this treatment.

I am a lazy gardener.  I spend more time harvesting than on any other garden chore.  I don't till and I barely weed.  And yet I have had lots of vegetables.  Not as many as I'd have if I actually worked at it, I'm sure, but certainly enough to make it worth my while.

If you have a patch of yard, a balcony, or a sunny window, and you are not gardening, you are wasting God's good earth.  Why not just light cigarettes with $100 bills while you're at it?  You could be pulling free money out of the ground.

Okay, so here are some basic tips for the first-year gardener.  I'm not a gardening expert, but I see this as an advantage.  If I can do it, so can you.

First, consider your possibilities.  What space do you have for gardening?  A south-facing window will do if nothing else is available, but outdoors is better, because who's got time for watering when God can do that for you?  If you're going to use containers, you'll have to buy dirt.  Potting soil is fine.  So are worm castings, if you can get them -- my farmers' market has them, and they appear to be the best thing you could get for container gardening.

Next, what do you want to grow?  If you have very limited space, herbs are a good choice because you don't need a lot of them.  My first year I grew basil.   I guess I had about two square feet, maybe a bit less, and I got more basil than I could use.  Other good plants for containers include lettuce, spinach, strawberries, or cherry tomatoes.  You can buy those upside-down tomato planters, if you like, or just punch some holes in a ten-gallon bucket and call it good.

If you've got actual ground, easy crops include green beans, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash of any kind.  Beans and peas like a trellis, but they don't take up much ground, so it's easy to stick them in near your fence.

Traditionally, people have dug up the dirt before planting.  But in my experience, it's better not to.  You can smother the weeds or grass the fall before.  But since it's April, you may have to dig -- but just scrape the sod off the ground.  Don't go crazy with digging deep.  Better yet, if you have the funds, lay some cardboard or newspaper on the ground and heap six inches of dirt on top of that.  The grass will die under the weight of the dirt, and when your seeds reach that far down, they'll get a nice buffet of rotting grass and weeds.  The earthworms will be going crazy too.  Digging just confuses the worms -- it's their job to dig, not yours.

Now you're ready to plant.  When should you plant?  Depends on what and where.  You can find a chart for your area.  The general rule is to divvy up your plants into two groups, early and late.  Early stuff, like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, potatoes, and peas, is going in right about now where I live.  Put it in when you start seeing fruit trees blooming and a green haze starting in the woods.  If you follow a calendar, don't let it tempt you into planting when it's still freezing cold.  I did that and my peas got snowed on.  Wait till it's really spring.

For late stuff, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash, wait till it's pretty much summer and it's actually hot.  Check the 10-day forecast; the overnight lows should be in the 40's.

Next, consider whether you want to start your seeds inside or outside.  Some things just don't sprout very well outside, or they need to get started in your warm house while it's still cold outside.  Good things to start inside include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cabbage.  I direct-seed everything else, but you can start anything inside except root crops like carrots or beets.  They won't like it if you transplant them.

Growing plants inside is the hardest part for me.  I hate it, there's never enough light, and I forget to water them.  In fact, I think I have broccoli seedlings wilting of thirst right now.  Oops.  I've killed them twice already this year.  (Never give up!  Just plant again!  And again, and again!)  Plant seeds about three times their diameter, or less if you like.  I barely cover mine, no matter what kind, if I'm growing them inside.  When you are sprouting seeds, the key is moisture and heat.  Don't ever let the soil dry out at this stage.  Later, a bit of aridity will do them good, but a sprouting seedling has no roots and really needs to be wet all the time.  The top of the fridge or the back of the stove will keep them warm.  Move them into the light when you see green appearing.

When it's warm enough for them outside, or you're sick of having them inside, or they have a few true leaves (the first two seed leaves don't count), you can transplant them.  Dig a little hole where you want them to be, take them out of the pot, and stick them in.  A rainy or cloudy day is perfect; otherwise do it in the afternoon.  A full day's sun is a lot to ask them to deal with on their first day.  (Though it's best of all if you can get them used to full sun beforehand by leaving them on the porch and bringing them in at night when practical.  I do this, but then I forget them and they freeze to death outside.  Oops.)  Give the seedlings plenty of water their first few days.  Really coddle them.  When they're about a week old you can go back to neglecting them.

If you're direct-seeding outside, just put the seeds in the dirt.  I have tried everything, especially with lettuce, which gives me a ton of trouble every time.  And what seems to work best for me is to toss a ton of seeds down on a wet day and just hope.  If the seeds are large, you'll want to actually bury them.  Since I always keep a lot of mulch on the garden (mostly just old leaves), I pull it back to plant seeds.  Leaving a little straw there does no harm, though; the plants can push through it.  Again, you have to keep the soil wet while things are sprouting.  I've occasionally had some dry weather and had to water twice a day.  That's the hard part.  Once the plants are up, they can fend for themselves much better.

If you're nervous about all of the above, you could just buy seedlings in pots from a garden or hardware store.  Sometimes they are not very healthy and will just die on you.  Your best bet is to get the smallest seedlings you can find.  The big ones are usually busy overgrowing their pots and they won't root well in your garden.

Then you pretty much just leave the plants to grow, in their pot or in the ground, until they start giving you food.  It might be helpful to read some tips on the plants you've chosen; basil, for instance, needs to be harvested often or it will go to seed and die.  If you see a lot of weeds, pull them up.  Midsummer is the time you've really got to watch out, because the weeds can get ahead of you fast.  The rest of the year, not so much, so I have been known to turn a blind eye on a couple of purslanes in the with the vegetables on the fall.  Best of all is if you have a good source of old leaves, straw, or hay -- pile it on the bare soil around your plants' roots, and it will smother the weeds and keep the soil from drying out.

If you miss the "right" dates for planting, do not worry.  You can plant later.  Once it's hot, your "early" plants might not make it, but you can go on planting "late" ones into midsummer.  Then once the hottest weather is over, you can go straight back to your "early" ones for a fall crop.  I can't believe I worried that my green beans would die because I planted them in July.  They did amazing, better than they did when I planted them on time.  Planting a bit later can be better, because they get more sun.

If your plants turn yellow, they may be deficient in nitrogen.  I'm not a believer in artificial fertilizers, but you know what has nitrogen?  Pee.  Any kind of manure will do -- chicken, cow, rabbit -- but don't put it directly on your plants unless it's been composting for awhile, because it has too much nitrogen.  You can put a handful of manure in a gallon of water and just pour it on that way.  Or swish a wet cloth diaper in the watering can.  It's amazing how fast they perk up.

If they get a disease ... well, my technique is to just step back and see how they do.  Often they fight it off.  Sometimes they die and I just harvest what I can.  It's the circle of life.  Same for bugs.  You can handpick bugs off your plants, but a few bugs probably won't kill your plants, and a plague of bugs will kill them whatever you do, so neglect works okay here too.

Once my plants are established, they get water once a week.  No more, or they get spoiled.  If you water too often, your plants won't put down deep roots, and so if you forget a day, they'll keel over and die.  If it rains, you're good for a week.  If a week goes by without rain, water ... but thoroughly.  Water first thing in the morning, before it gets hot, and really soak the soil under the plants.  Don't spray the leaves, water the dirt.  If you're in doubt as to whether you need to water, don't just look at the soil surface -- dig a little hole.  If the soil is wet a couple inches down, you're good, even if the surface is dry and cracking.  If the plants are starting to wilt, though, go ahead and water them.

If nothing comes up, or if your plants die ... plant more stuff.  Don't let it discourage you.  It happens, but seeds are cheap.  In fact, I think it's good to stagger plantings -- throw down a few more seeds each week until something grows.  And though they tell you to start small, with just one kind of plant, I'd say the opposite.  Grow at least two things so that something grows.  If you find something that works well for you, well, that's one thing you can count on!  My staples are tomatoes and pumpkins.  Other things are iffy for me.  I keep trying, and someday I hope to have the hang of it.

Whatever you do, just keep planting stuff.  You're developing a valuable skill, you're saving money, and if you're lucky you will get something delicious that will put you off the produce aisle version for good.  Don't think of it like an input-output game.  Think of it like gambling.  Your number might not come up ... but a ticket's cheap.  Why not try?  You could hit it big with a bumper crop of something good to eat.  And if you don't win this time, keep trying.  The odds are in your favor.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some random pictures

Someone (Sojourner?) asked about my wedding dress.  Here's what it looked like.  The veil is just a huge gauze oval that went over my head and down the back almost to my feet.

It was good for dancing in.

I'm not sure why this picture is stubbornly upside-down.  I blame my smart-aleck phone.  It was so sure this picture belonged upside-down that every time I try to rotate it, it ends up turned over again.

Anyway, my kids are cute.

This was a breakthrough I really didn't want Michael to reach.  He is only 11 months and can now scale a chair in about 10 seconds.

So, in my attempt to wear actual outfits instead of just my husband's old t-shirts, I've gotten obsessed with pashminas.  I have four of them, each one a gift, each one a gorgeous color, and I never wear them.  So I've been wearing them all week.  They are so handy.

You can wear them instead of a sweater.

Or if your kid is feeling cold, they can snuggle into it.

You can use it as a nursing cover.  (This pose lasted about 5 seconds before Michael yanked it off, so be warned.)

A good one will double as a very good sling.  They have exactly the right amount of give.

They do back carries, too.  They're a bit short to be completely secure, but this one works in a pinch.

Oh, and if you're working in the garden and afraid of getting a sunburn ... or you're into covering your head in church ... or you accidentally blunder into an Islamic republic on the way home from the playground ... this style should do the trick.

See?  Pashminas are like a mom uniform.  I highly recommend them.  Get machine washable ones, though, because if you can't wipe a toddler's nose with it, it ain't worth wearing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Born too late

Lately I've been feeling very discontented with my online life.  I read things like this article and I think, that's me.  Using the internet to filter down the world to only those parts that I'm comfortable with.  Or this one, reminding me of how extremely ADD the internet makes me.  I can't read through a whole article before switching to some other tab for no reason at all except that I'm already bored with the tab I'm in.  Endless hours get eaten up in front of the computer, and there's always more to read.  I always have a dozen tabs open that I really want to get to, and those tabs draw me back to the computer to "finish up" even though I have other things I should be doing.  By the time I get up, I feel listless, crammed with information I've had no opportunity to reflect on, guilty for the time I've wasted, sluggish from having spent so much time on my butt.  Why do I do this to myself?  I'm not even enjoying it!

Since I got married, I haven't fasted on the fast days of the Church.  Because I've been pregnant or nursing the whole time, I'm exempt -- which is a huge relief to me, because I am a terrible faster.  Instead, I fast from the internet.  I am more addicted to the internet than I am to food, and I figure it will be a huge sacrifice.

But the thing is, it never is.  It's not a sacrifice at all.  It's a relief.  The computer is shut and I'm free to find other things to do.  I clean the house.  I play with my kids (some ... I am still a big believer in kids entertaining themselves).  I read library books and start craft projects.  And it's great.  My days pass slower, but more enjoyably.  When I rest, I actually feel like I'm resting.  And almost any other thing I do, I end up getting tired of or bored with and feeling like moving on to the next thing.  It drives me on to do housework or knock out my to-do list.  The internet dulls that feeling of "finished" -- I am never finished.

I ended up stretching my fast a little further and staying mostly off the computer throughout the weekend.  It was great.  Why get back on at all?  Well, I did miss my friends, whom I can't see often in real life.  And I am doing book research.  But mainly because it felt like I can't actually be a human being in the 21st century and not be online a lot.  People expect it.  Still, I'd like to be more intentional about it from now on -- maybe even figure out a schedule for computer time.  Because I have to admit that my relationship with the internet is way unhealthy.

Anyway while I was offline, I was thinking about the past.  I've been studying archeology a lot lately, like I've said, and it's so neat to see all the things people can do.  Any woman of the middle ages could do all of the following: card wool, spin yarn, weave, brew, light a fire, bake, tend a garden, make cheese, pickle vegetables, make butter, and so many more things.  Sure, I can do things she couldn't: read, type, drive a car.  But it's so rare for us nowadays to do the entire thing of any job.  Maybe we can make our own clothes, but we buy the cloth.  We cook food, but we buy the ingredients.

I just have this craving to do the whole thing myself.  I like to grow food and pick it and cook it and eat it.  I dream of carding wool and spinning it and weaving it and sewing it.

John tried to get me to explain this desire of mine, because he doesn't get it at all.  Part of it is simply that I enjoy creating.  I love to create; it doesn't even matter what.  Over the years I've created dolls, puppets, paintings, novels, woven things, knit things, crochet things, food, gardens, quill pens, alcoholic beverages, photographs, poems, treehouses, and clothing.  It's satisfying in a way that nothing else is.  And I don't like to make a fancy craft out of it, buying a ton of supplies so I can do it right.  I like to improvise materials and use what I have on hand.

Part of it is a desire for independence.  I have a moral notion, something no one ever taught me, but which I guess I picked up from my upbringing, that it is more virtuous to make something than to buy it.  That it's better to be a producer than a consumer.  I loathe shopping.  I detest it.  Since I usually shop at Aldi, I find the regular grocery store a shock.  So much stuff!  So much worthless junk!  So many things you could easily make yourself!

Meanwhile, I'm sure there are people who walk the aisles thinking, "Wow.  Wonders of civilization."  I saw a video awhile back that told the story of a pencil.  How many different people's work goes into making a pencil, and what a wonderful thing it is that capitalism brings all these things together to make a pencil that no single one of us could make on our own.  It just left me thinking, "You think an individual can't make an implement to write with?  Watch me."  I wanted to give up pencils for good and fling it in the teeth of Dixon Ticonderoga.  But that would be kind of a useless gesture seeing as I use a computer that has a heck of a lot more people's work going into it, and I can't make my own computer components.

What the heck is wrong with me?  Is it the Scotch descent?  Ideals learned from Depression-era grandparents?  The constant fear of poverty?  Was I just born into the wrong era, that I can't appreciate a vast, complex economy and unlimited variety of consumer goods?

All I know is that I recently saw a documentary on replicating life in the Iron Age and I thought, "Oh, man.  That would be awesome."  I would love to live in a house I had built myself, milking cows, grinding grain in a saddle quern, and spinning wool from my sheep.  Maybe I'm idealizing.  Maybe I'm really too lazy and couldn't do all the work.  But I'm ashamed of that lazy side of myself; I'd rather do the work.

The one sticking point, though, is the loneliness.  People then lived in community.  Now we're so isolated, without our technological devices, it would be hard to keep in touch.  My next-door neighbor told me today that no one sits on their front porches anymore.  They all stay inside where the air-conditioning is.  He and I get along fine, by the way.  At first I admit I stereotyped him, because he, like most people around here, is something of a redneck.  But maybe that's the internet talking, my tendency to sort people by stereotype and then choose to associate only with those who are like me.  Maybe it opens my mind more to talk to my neighbor over the fence than it does to read a blog of another crunchy hippie Catholic mother on the other side of the world.  I just need to find ways to create community in the places where I am.

As time goes on, I find myself becoming more and more of a Luddite.  When I started using the internet, I also started making medieval clothing.  Now that we have internet on our phones, I'm dreaming of a drop spindle. 

Ah well, I never was any good at staying in style anyway.

When it comes down to it, it's not about abandoning the modern world.  It's about bringing those ancient things that I love into the present so that I can build a life that's true to who I am, that allows me to live in the modern world without letting it change me more than I'm comfortable with.
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