On Giants' Shoulders

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Check List

Mountain climbed: Check
Emergency Kit assembled: Check
Surprise basket put together: Check
Groom's cake boxed: Check
Weight back at goal: Check
Condo cleaned: To Do
Food for rehearsal made: To Do
Punch bowl run through the dishwasher: To Do
Cheese for cheese basket purchased: To Do
Who does what when list made: To Do
One final attempt to make jacket unscratchy: To Do
Letters to Bride and Groom: Written, but need to be printed off

So, I guess you can all figure out what I'm doing today and tomorrow...

Can you believe it? The wedding is in TWO days!!! We covet your prayers for a lovely ceremony (that truly touches hearts), passable weather (thunderstorms are predicted), a fantastic reception, and a relaxing honeymoon, and a most blessed married life for Jim and Abby.

Monday, July 28, 2008

5,4,3,2,1, Blast Off

Well, the countdown has truly begun. Next week at this time all the fuss, all the planning, all the last minute panic will be over. Today that's still hard to believe because I feel like I have 13 impossible things to do before breakfast. It isn't actually that many and the only truly impossible thing I have to deal with is my hair. Hopefully the salon will be able to work more magic on Saturday than I've been able to manage of late. I think I'm feeling anxious today because I got a task given to me yesterday that means I've got to go back yet another time and deal with the music director at church. She's an older nun who, while I'm sure she's trying to be nice, has made me feel at every encounter that I'm entering the principal's office after having done something wrong. I'm dreading having to do it again. Because we have new priests I no longer have the option of simply giving a quick call to Father Mayo to ask him the question and I'm not yet at the point of feeling comfortable giving a quick call to Father Baker. I think only my daughter understands just how uncomfortable this particular aspect of things is, and is really grateful she doesn't have to do it. Everyone else, I'm sure thinks I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it is truly a mountain for me.

This week I need to: put together an emergency wedding day kit (sewing supplies, Motrin, etc), put together one gift basket (plus another little surprise one), pay the restaurant, cancel some hair appointments, figure out who does what when, clean the condo where my brother-in-law and niece will be staying, dye my hair, make some food for the rehearsal dinner, make sure the guys get to Burlington to pick up their tuxes, lose two more pounds (ok, I'm being obsessive now!), write nice letters to my dd and her new husband. Most of this falls into the category of housekeeping details, but the last item really does not. In the midst of a whole lot of hub bub it actually feels like the most important thing I'll do this week. I've been working on it for a while now (mostly in my head) and I'm not yet satisfied with what I've come up with.

Months ago I told my daughter I wanted them to have this time before the wedding be a time when they could prepare not just for a party, but for marriage. I think they've done a pretty good job of balancing both of those things, and I've tried to not only help with the practical stuff, but add lots of prayers for them into my schedule as well. I'd appreciate all of your prayers for us this week. They want this wedding to truly reflect what they are aiming for in their marriage. They want all their guests to understand what this sacrament is all about (including the fact that it IS a sacrament. A lot of work and thought has gone into it and it would be really nice if it all comes together the way they have dreamed it would.

So very soon we'll be a reconfigured family. It's going to feel different in some ways, but not all that different in others. Jim has been a part of our life for long enough now that it feels like he's been a part of the family for quite awhile. Abby's lived away from here enough that there is no huge transition to make on that front. Because of gas prices they probably won't be down as often as they've been in the past few months, but I certainly know the way to Burlington.

Once the wedding is over, the guests gone home, the presents gathered, the couple off on the honeymoon I'm beginning a new undertaking. Or maybe I'm simply going back to an old one. Next week I go to my first La Leche League meeting in about 20 years. I'm in the process of getting reactivated as a leader. Now that my own kids are all grown up I can go back to doing something else I love. For this week, however, that and nearly everything else (including the weeds in the garden) are on the very backburner as we prepare for the biggest day we've had in a very, very long time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Strike Against "The Man"

Or at least that's sort of how I see it. Our propane bill suddenly skyrocketed this spring. When you couple that with the increased price of gasoline, the increased price of food... well, a lot of us who aren't oil barons or growers of corn destined for bio fuels are feeling the pinch. This weekend we struck back. My plea to my husband for a clothes line has finally been heard. I now have four beautiful lines hanging from a sturdy wooden frame in my back yard.

Now grant you this means I'm going to have to do some planning. I'm going to have to run several loads on one day (when I know the drying conditions will be good) rather than loads at the last minute. In short, I think I'm going to have to have a washday. It's going to mean carrying laundry baskets out the front door, across the side yard to the backyard (because we don't have a usable back door on the house at the moment (not until the back deck gets built anyway). However, WW's friends, just think about all the activity points I'll rack up carrying laundry baskets all those steps.

I used to have a clothes line when the kids were little (and didn't have a dryer). For years now I've had a dryer and no clothesline. I've missed my clothesline. I've missed the smell of air dried clothes. However, I've also gotten pretty spoiled at being able to dry stuff at the last minute and not having to use drying racks on rainy or wintery days. I've now got to haul the drying racks out of storage and up to the one room on the second floor where I can make space for them. The dryer is going to become something used rarely, not usually. I probably won't make some propane producer in Texas cry, nor will I cut into the profits of the local distributer very much. However, every little bit counts. One real advantage of line drying is that if something is stained, and it doesn't come out in the wash, said stain will no longer be set in by the heat of the dryer. As I recall, line dried clothing is a whole lot less apt to shrink as well. Now, if I can just avoid trapping wasps in anyone's pant legs, this whole thing may be really a boon to all (except the propane people).

My goodness, have I really become an apron wearing, sock knitting, wool spinning, bread baking, cloth dishtowel using, woman who has an actual washday? By, George, I think I have. I think I may be slowly turning into my grandmother, just in time to have grandbabies. (did I mention we're having a wedding this summer????). Now, I think I perhaps should take one more page from her book. Last week our new priest exhorted us to read through the Bible. I actually have done it (twice, if you count one whole time through the 66 book Protestant canon), but I think perhaps it's time to do it again. My Grammy and Grampa Lyon did it every year. I don't want to be exactly like my grandmother (we have very different tastes in reading for the most part, and I'd just as soon be a bit fitter than she was), however, her life teaches lessons about how to survive in economic hard times. I think I'm really ready to learn them.

New Link

If you check on my links you'll see I added a new one today. It's the link to the New Distributist League. I actually discovered this site in my search for information on Orestes Brownson (19th century convert, great American thinker, one time friend of Bronson Alcott, and fellow Vermonter). To find that particular post you'll have to go back to April 8th. However, there you will find an interesting essay by Brownson on the topic of the oppression of "free labor." If you are as frustrated as some of us are with the inability of many people to find jobs that actually pay them enough to support a family while others in the same community are living in the lap of luxury, well you'll find that Brownson was frustrated about the same things. He has largely been forgotten by even American Catholics, but then Thomas Aquinas was forgotten for awhile as well.

I'm currently reading a biography of Brownson and I know at least one person I'm going to strongly recommend it to when I finish. He had an interesting story, a fascinating journey, a tough life in many respects, he had satirical poems written about him, traveled from place to place for years. Yet he had a voice that was heard by at least some people. John Henry Cardinal Newman claimed he was the greatest thinker the United States ever produced. Considering the stature of Newman, that is high praise indeed.

So click on the link, read some Brownson, check out the site. It will at least be a respite from the current crop of politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouth, but ultimately are in the pockets of one group of rich capitalists or another.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vindication Raises Some Questions

Once upon a time there were doctors who thought you could diagnose people's personalities by the bumps on their head (this was known as phrenology). We laugh at the notion now. Once upon a time people believed that pouring alcohol into certain sections of the front of the brain was good medicine, we cringe at the thought. Once upon a time people believed you could determine someone's guilt or innocence depending on whether they drowned when you threw them into water, now we see that as foolishness. Once upon a time people believed that if you hooked people up to a machine and asked them questions in a threatening manner you could determine if they were telling the truth. Oh wait, some people still believe that...

Today the paper announced the news that John and Patsy Ramsey (and their son Burke as well) have been cleared in the murder of their daughter Jon Benet. A lot of the reason that people believed the Ramsey's to be guilty was because of inconclusive polygraph test results. There's a tendency among police officials and some other government people to think that anything but a blazingly clear polygraph indicates deception. Of course, they realize that some guilty people have a result that indicates they're telling the truth, but don't confuse them with facts when their minds are already made up.

John and Patsy Ramsey didn't suddenly become not the perpetrators of their daughter's murder today. It's just that it's only now that the evidence that cleared them has become available. Yet when they took those polygraph tests they were telling the truth. The machine simply wasn't able to demonstrate that fact, for whatever reason. Some people are not good subjects for the machine, some operators are inept, some operators are so busy trying to illicit an emotional response that they render their results meaningless.

Yet, the polygraph is being depended on more and more for things like pre-employment screening. Some candidates lie and get past the machine anyway, some candidates are scrupulously honest and get inconclusive results with the result that they aren't hired, some lucky candidates take the test and pass it while telling the truth. I imagine that some people had the right shape head bumps when phrenology was all the rage as well. I also imagine that a lot of the people who didn't drown when thrown in the water were simply people who had somehow learned to swim. Of course, the ones who did drown, didn't exactly profit by their demonstrated innocence.... I suspect that a couple of hundred years from now people will be laughing at their foolish ancestors for believing that truth could be determined by a machine. It's just that today, for people unjustly accused of crimes, or being denied jobs there's really nothing to laugh about.

Musings While Weeding

I've been doing a lot of weeding lately. I'm taking today off because I overdid it so much yesterday that I ache nearly from head to toe. However, it's been an interesting process, and the source of some reflection.

Our garden got very weedy, very quickly. This was in part do to a lot of rain, and in part due to the fact that it didn't get hoed early (according to my son, who prefers hoeing to weeding). I did weed part of the garden before our trip to St. Louis, but didn't get to all of it. When we got back I had to redo what I'd already done, made a bit of progress, but managed to get the mother of all sunburns and so was out of commission for weeding for another week. When I finally got back to it, the weeds were pretty phenomenal. I've been working my way through them and have done at least 3 hours worth each of the last couple of days.

Some of the weeds were really tall (as in up to my chin). They had stubborn roots and they certainly were heavy to pull and toss onto the pile. They overshadowed the actual vegetables.
Some of the weeds were things that, in another context wouldn't have been weeds at all. For example, our garden seems to be rich in something sometimes called Withywindle, it's a form of morning glory. Outside of the garden it's beautiful. In the garden it's destructive. It's more common name around here is bindweed. It attaches itself to the plants and is tremendously difficult to untangle and pull up without pulling up or damaging the plants themselves.

So, I began having some reflections on spiritual matters. I wondered whether Pope Benedict ever had to weed a row of onions awash in a sea of pig weed and bind weed. The pig weed hid the onions to a degree that I thought perhaps my husband had only planted half a row. As I got through the weeds I discovered more and more onions. Perhaps the Holy Father is able to look past the seed of weeds and see the true wheat in the Church. Perhaps also he is able to see that some things people see as good are more like bindweed: good in some settings, but not necessarily good as part of Mass.

One of the things I've noticed, however, is that when the weeds have grown really tall, the plants have actually come to depend upon them for support. Sometimes you have to cut the weeds, but leave them in place to allow the plants a chance to grow in the sunshine and become strong before you actually pull the weeds out. Simply pulling willy-nilly is apt to pull up plants, or damage the ones that are too weak to stand up by themselves.

Some plants seem to thrive in spite of the weeds (mustard, kale, turnips are examples of this) while others (like parsnips) are overwhelmed by them. Other plants muddle along in the midst of the weeds (chard for example), but don't really begin to grow until the weeds are pulled out. I'm sure there are parallels with the Church here as well.

One thing that happened yesterday was most annoying, and I'm sure that the Holy Father has experienced his own version of this. As I was weeding the onions, a great demon hoard arose (actually a swarm of mosquitoes) to vehemently object to what I was doing to their habitat. Clearly, they loved the sea of weeds, and didn't appreciate my uprooting them. I had to go to the house twice for various anti-bug remedies and even then they kept flying right around my eyes.

I'm still far from done with the weeding, but the garden is beginning to look more like a proper garden again and we have a chance of a decent harvest of onions, chard, and turnips, as well as the current enjoyment of all sorts of salad greens. Pope Benedict's weeding job is also far from completed, but we're beginning to see some fruits of that as well. Just don't be surprised when even some of the plants complain that the bindweed is being removed. They don't realize that some of it is about context. Clowns are great at a birthday party, but they are out of context at Mass. Ballet is beautiful, but not at Mass. Novelty has its place, but not at Mass. Let's continue to pray that the Holy Father will be able to gently untangle the Withywindle and provide an environment where the plants can really grow.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What About Wants Anyway

The question just keeps circling around this week: what's the difference between needs and wants, and how much right do we have to get our wants met when other people aren't getting their needs met? It started with a discussion between my son and his soon to be brother-in-law who were discussing justice relative to the way a certain Catholic school was paying its staff. Was it right that parents of children in that school were driving luxury vehicles and living an opulent life style when the school couldn't afford to pay its staff a living wage (some of the summer staff are being paid only $8.50 an hour). The question of needs and wants entered in as well as the rights of people to a proportionate amount of their income.

Then on Sunday our new priest talked about the difference between needs and wants and pointed out that while shelter is a need cable TV is only a want. Today there's a discussion going on at Danielle Bean's site as to whether women should get their wedding rings upgraded when their financial situation improves.

Clearly, we are living in a time when some people, including some Catholic people, have a lot of disposable income and other people don't have enough money to live on. We don't happen to quite fall into either category. We're mostly just scraping by, although I'll admit we do have a satellite dish and DSL, which both fall into the category of wants, not needs. We drive older cars, we heat our house with wood, we wear clothes until they wear out, not until they go out of style. We try to practice charity, and we try to be good stewards of what we have. I watch a lot of people really, really struggling right now. Either they are unable to find jobs, or the jobs they can find are inadequate to pay for basic needs as well as being jobs that don't tap their actual abilities. Meanwhile, other people (generally not quite so young) are being paid exorbitant amounts of money, and frequently have their jobs not because of their ability, but simply because they happened to know the right person, or be in the right place at the right time.

So, are we entitled to keep all the wonderful extra money that falls in our laps, or should we be funneling that extra money to people who don't have enough? Should we perhaps be helping create worker cooperatives that can pay a just wage, or giving more money to our parish school so that they can pay their staff a just wage? Some people would say that as long as we are giving an appropriate percentage of our income to the Church, we can do what we'd like with the rest. I'm just not so sure about that, but I'm also uncomfortable about what sometimes gets defined as needs. Clearly, what most people think of as needs now, are socially perceived needs, not actual needs. People need shelter (including heat - which threatens to be VERY expensive next winter), they don't need cable, they don't need air conditioning, or matching furniture, or a dryer. All of those are nice conveniences, but since my grandparents managed to raise 15 children between two families without them, clearly they aren't needs.

Clothing is also a need, even reasonable looking clothing is necessary in order to find and keep a job that will pay for your other needs. However, an extensive fashionable wardrobe is a want. There is some justification for paying more for clothes, if it means you are not subsidizing slave labor in China, but to do so probably means having very few outfits, and perhaps buying your clothes at the consignment shop.

Food is a definite need, but chicken breasts, instead of legs, strip steak instead of ground beef, high priced prepared foods, expensive restaurant meals are wants. The foods that used to be celebratory foods have become ordinary fare and most everyone thinks they are entitled to them. There are ways for most people to keep a food budget under control, and eat within their means, but often that means that someone has to eat things that aren't their most favorite items (perhaps tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches instead of grilled chicken breast Caesar salad, or egg salad sandwiches instead of deli meat). Some families are surviving only because of community food shelves, but often, even there, people are rejecting some of the offerings because they don't like them. Truly hungry people eat a lot of things that sort of hungry people don't think they should have to eat.

The rich have a responsibility to be just with their workers, to be charitable with their excess. The poor have a responsibility to not envy, and to be sure to identify their true needs rather than their wants. All of us have a responsibility to encourage just wages for all workers (not just the ones in our own backyard) and to be responsible stewards of what we have. There will be moments for celebration at which celebratory foods and dress are appropriate. There will be times when abstaining from celebratory foods is appropriate.

We live in an era where people think that sexual desires are needs not wants. Hence the horrible percentage of couples who are already living together when they finally make the trip to the altar. Of course part of the delay also comes from "needing" an expensive wedding. Part of the reason that some couples are delaying children, or keeping the mother in the work force is that they are still paying off that expensive wedding. An expensive wedding is a want, not a need. It is possible to have a very nice wedding on a budget, although we've found it is a challenge to do so. However, better a simple ceremony in street clothes than a marriage that begins on the wrong foundation.

There is something somewhat obscene about the Mc Mansions that have sprouted up on Spear Street in Burlington. They are houses that could easily provide bedrooms for 10 kids, but probably don't house more than 2. They are an example of conspicuous consumption, a way of telling everyone around that the owners have made it. Americans are really good at conspicuous consumption, would that we were as good about ensuring that everyone had a living wage. I would challenge anyone thinking about a purchase that's really just a way of demonstrating your wealth, whether it might not be better to contribute the money you're about to spend on jewelery or a luxury car or a more opulent house towards making it possible for someone else to have their basic needs for clothing, transportation, or shelter met. It's nice to appreciate fine things, but our appreciation needs to be proportionate. It doesn't seem fair to be paying a lower tuition to a Catholic school then you would to a posh private school, and then driving a luxury car while the staff at the Catholic school often can't afford to drive at all. I'm not so much in favor of big government give aways as I am in favor of people being paid a just wage from top to bottom (which may mean the people at the top make a whole lot less and the people at the bottom somewhat more) and jobs enough so that no one would be without one who needed one. I'm also in favor of an economy which makes it possible for babies to be cared for by their own mothers rather than parked in a day care center for 9 + hours a day. I honestly believe that babies need their mothers, that it is not just a want, but a genuine need, for the best physical, emotional, and mental growth. There's something wrong with a society that puts the wants of adults above the needs of babies.

Now I realize one person's decisions to spend conspicuously or not probably don't impact things all that much. However, each person's decisions do contribute to an overall climate. Each time we say yes to conspicuous consumption we are helping define who we are as a society. We place more and more pressure on everyone to conform. There's a reason why the young mom in my neighborhood is working instead of staying home with her toddler. She could live on her husband's income, but she couldn't dress her daughter in a fashion that would keep her among the best dressed in her kindergarten class. She wouldn't be able to provide the dance lessons that the wealthier families provide. So in order to keep her daughter in the social race she leaves her toddler at day car for 9+ hours a day. She's bought into a media sponsored lie about just what her daughter needs, but every time families make the decision to have their child wear designer clothes, or the newest toys, they put pressure on the less well off to try to "keep up with the Jones's." No one wants their child to feel left out. No one wants to be poorly thought of, but the cycle of conspicuous consumption creates a monster where people attempt to get fulfillment from things.

Jesus had a radical message: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. His message to the rich is equally radical: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to inherit the Kingdom of heaven. We don't need to all be vowed to poverty like St. Francis, but we do all need to be aware that we should be laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth.