Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Public discourse

Let me begin by lifting up my former father-in-law. He and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but he is always interested in my opinion, always listens respectfully to what I say, and he is no one's puppet. He goes out of his way to learn from others, especially those who feel or think or believe differently than he does.

He and people like him are the best hope for this country.

I have been so disappointed this week in every side's discourse, if you can call it that, around Sarah Palin's presumptive nomination as vice-president. From the Democrats' side, it's been shocking to read that she should be "forced," as a conservative, to stay home and take care of her kids. What, we only believe in feminism for women who think like us? It's one thing to call hypocrisy on Phyllis Schlafly, who really did advocate for women to stay home while she enjoyed a distinguished public career, but as far as I know, Palin has not said similar things. And what about the esteemed Mr. Palin? Doesn't he bear some responsibility for rearing the children as well? Or does that automatically redound to Mommy?

It's been even more appalling to read hints that Palin bore her Down syndrome child solely for political purposes. Here I thought the meaning of pro-choice (which is legally extended, thank God, even to those who are anti-choice) was that women have a choice, not an obligation to abort. My most charitable response is that such sentiments are counterproductive.

Of course the Republicans and right-leaning pundits have had some pretty boneheaded things to say too. I'm sorry if I can't believe that being mayor of Wasilla teaches you any more about how the Senate works than your average high school civics class, or that I should do anything but laugh out loud when someone suggests that Alaska is right next door to Russia and therefore qualifies as a kind of classroom in foreign policy (hey, did you forget about Canada? or is that just a state in your book?). But at least nothing I've seen from them this week has made me ashamed of my humanity.

Both sides get demerits for discussing Palin's, uh, physical attributes. Really? Is this the 21st century?

My prayer is to be a little more like FFIL.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Puppies, puppies, puppies

Meet Hazel, the newest member of the Simple family. She is the sweetest, calmest puppy I have ever met. She is also the smartest, chewiest puppy I have ever met, which means that my brand new copy of Walter Brueggemann's The Word Militant now has a considerable chunk out of its hard cover.

At least she has good taste.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

When it hits the fan (Or, who are the people in your neighborhood?)

When I talk to my friends back in the rural northwest, where an anti-government, quasi-apocalyptic ethic has reigned for decades, there is a common beginning to sentences: "When the [stuff] hits the fan," meaning, in this case, when the economy falls apart, when there is no petroleum energy to rely on, when food and water sources dry up, when infrastructure crumbles. When, not if.

I have to say, although I'm no conspiracy theorist, a combination of childhood traumas and adult misadventures has always predisposed me to think this scenario could happen. Self-reliance, or what I think of as tribal reliance, is a virtue in my book, and everything I've written about in this blog, and most of the decisions I've made in my lifetime, can trace their heritage to that belief. Over time, I've modified my vision of the Good, so I can see grace in other kinds of living, but I remain fused to an ideal of doing for myself where possible.

Longtime readers of this sporadic blog will remember that last year I tried to cut my driving in half compared to the previous year's mileage. I shaved quite a few miles off but failed to reach my goal, and put most of the blame at the feet of Suburubia. If work and school and play are all 7-10 miles away, I reasoned, and public transportation remains largely out of reach, no wonder I can't stop driving. Houses in Suburubia are approximately 200K to 400K less expensive than comparable houses in the city, so moving is not an option (and when I say comparable I do not mean opulent). I have grown accustomed to grousing about being "stuck" in the suburbs, although I love my house and its burgeoning collection of fruit trees. Thus, Suburubia has seemed at best like an inconvenient vessel for a convenient place to live.

But I am a bit of a crank (see above), and when the national anxiety level starts to rise over gas prices and suburban living, I am motivated to think against the grain.

This is all a fancy and long-winded prelude to a simple tale: last night I decided to find out how many places to get food (not including my back yard) were within easy walking distance from my house. "Easy" is defined here as how far Progeny is willing to walk without whining or wishing out loud he were playing Yu-Gi-Oh instead. He and I have sometimes walked to the Blimpies that is a part of the gas station convenience store on the main road, but I was looking for something a little less generic and more nourishing. I found--

* Innumerable convenience stores in a half-mile stretch (eight? ten? is this about brand loyalty? a better selection of malt liquor?)
* Three wings places
* A better than average Jamaican restaurant
* A homestyle-cooking-to-go joint
* Two iffy American-Chinese places, one serving pizza as well
* An Ethiopian sports bar
* A KFC/Taco Bell combo
* A slightly horrifying grocery store, which nevertheless has organic milk, a little bit of produce, and a great selection of Bosnian and Vietnamese food items
* There were also two package stores and a "gentlemen's club," but I did not stop to inquire about the availability of food.

Now, I have been to a few of these venues before, and driven past and made note of each of them at some point or another. But I had grown used to thinking them as part of the suburban landscape, only worth escaping. Now that gas is $4 a gallon I can finally see what has been right in front of my face. This too is a place where people live, and eat, and recreate, and work. It's time for me to stop being a tourist in my own neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I buy nothing!

Well, my neck is considerably better, although it will never be a hundred percent. I guess that's like saying I will never be 28 again. I've been able to go out and plant trees and transplant bulbs, which makes me considerably happier.

April may be the brokest month, so it's an interesting experiment to celebrate Buy Nothing Month. Many people are familiar with Buy Nothing Day, which occurs every year on Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving. The name has always sounded suspiciously like Black Monday or Black Tuesday to me, although I think it's meant to evoke quite a different feeling.

It's one thing not to buy anything for a day, but a month is turning out to be quite another. Exceptions are made for necessities: food, medicines or medical equipment, fuel, and--luckily for me--gardening supplies if used to grow food. There are no official exceptions for clothing, birthday presents, media, or entertainment, although Crunchy Chicken has kindly set up a Sunday confessional at her blog for us to expiate our marketing sins.

Actually, the confessional turns out to be the reason for this post. It has been fascinating to see what various people of a simplicity turn think are necessities and what are not. Some of the supplicants itemize what to me seem like huge outlays, with accompanying justifications, while others confess things that I wouldn't even give any thought to before buying: three pens, vitamins, postage. One of the ongoing conversations concerns eating out, whether it's more or less wasteful than eating at home, whether or not the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and so forth. It's all very interesting food for thought. What are your necessities?

(P.S. The title of this post turns out to be a big fat lie, for I too have sinned!)

Friday, March 21, 2008


The books all say you're not supposed to prune your camellias until after they've bloomed, but mine are so spectacularly loaded this year that the branches have begun to split. So I went out with the pruning shears and tried to mitigate some of the damage. Branch after branch of lovely flowers fell to the ground, and the bush is still full (although looking kind of scalped).

The service on Good Friday in my congregation is an Adoration of the Cross. Instead of the standard bulletin, everyone is given a rose, and during worship, we place our roses on a rough-hewn cross in the middle of the sanctuary, where the altar table usually stands. In the old Roman Catholic mass, "Prosternimur corpore ante crucem, mente ante Dominium" (While we bend down in body before the cross we bend down in spirit before God).

I wish I could bring my camellias.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A healthy planet for all

While this blog is on hiatus due to a herniated disk (mine, not the blog's), I'd like to direct you to an article in the always-thought-provoking magazine The Sun. In it, David Kupfer interviews human rights advocate Van Jones, who limns the links between environmentalism and social justice much better than I ever could.

Once again, a hat tip to Colin Beavan.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Find of the Week

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann, 2005--I was looking for something on my favorite online independent bookseller recently, and saw this on their top 10 sellers list, half price. Like many people of my age and station, I have a 20 year-old crock pot in the cupboard that I use primarily for soaking and cooking dry beans, because I can't be bothered to babysit them on the stove. Since I am making a concerted effort this year to eat less insta-food (i.e., shells and cheese three times a week), I decided to take a chance on this book for inspiration and convenience.

Reader, I am inspired. This is not the cream of mushroom soup casserole slow cooker of yore. The authors give recipes for breakfast foods, rice dishes, side dishes, meat dishes (if you're into that sort of thing), desserts (mostly combinations of stewed fruits--yum!), and of course, the old standby bean pot. So far Progeny and I have made homemade applesauce, overnight oatmeal with last year's frozen blueberries, and roasted root vegetables. It's not that we couldn't make these things without a slow cooker, and if I didn't have one I wouldn't rush right out to buy one, but the fact that they're so much easier to make encourages me to make better use of this resource that was otherwise gathering dust behind the toaster. I don't want to betray copyright, so I won't reproduce it here, but I'm excited to try "Your Own Blend Overnight Porridge." See if your library has this gem.