Thursday, June 13, 2019

Quote for the day: Sometimes it's cherries

"All I have to do in order to begin again is to love mercy, if I am to believe nutty old Micah. Then creation begins to float by, each new day. Sometimes it's beauty, cherries, calm, or hawks; sometimes it's forbearance, stamina, eyeglass wipes, apricots, aspirin, second winds." ~~ Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

From the archives: When Lydia was almost six

First posted April 2007

1. "You know what I like to do? I like to bake cookies and then even after I wash my hands my hands smell cookie-ish."

2.  Mama Squirrel: Now it's time for memory work. We're going to say the Ten Commandments.

Crayons/Lydia: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick...

From the archives: Ponytails' really good narration about Theseus

First posted June 2006. Ponytails was almost nine.

(Note from Mama Squirrel: Ponytails dictated this to me recently. It's from the middle of the story of Theseus in Charles Kingsley's The Heroes. Some background: Theseus has been on a quest to find his father, King Aegeus (who doesn't know him), and on the way he has had to kill various monsters and so has gained a reputation for himself; one of these slayings turned out to be some kind of a kinsman, so he had to go and get purified for that (forgiven, as Ponytails says here). When he finally arrives at the palace, he finds it has been taken over by his partying cousins.)

Theseus went and got forgiven, and then he went on to the palace. He looked around for his father, but he wasn't there. He said, "Where is the master Aegeus?" "We are all masters here! You can ask one of us instead. Come and eat and drink with us (hic!)! Heh heh heh!" Theseus looked around, but he did not see Aegeus. Then he said, "Go and tell him Theseus is here!" "Yes, your majesty--Mr. Theseus--I will go and summon him!"

So he went, and next to him [Aegeus] was Medea, and she was a snake woman. So Aegeus turned pale, red and then white. He went out because he knew this was going to be important.

Theseus said in his mind, "I'm going to test him first before I say I am his son." So he said, "I have come for a reward." Aegeus said, "I cannot afford it." But Theseus said, "All I want is dinner." "Okay, I can give you that."

Medea was watching. She went back into her room, and she came back out. She said, "This is a troublemaker." She saw him [Aegeus] go red and white when he heard the word Troezene. So she was going to get rid of him, Ah ha ha ha! She dressed in jewels and got a golden bottle full of magic wine and a golden cup. And she came out to Theseus and said in a soft voice, "Theseus! Please drink from this cup! It will give you strength and heal your wounds, it will give you fresh blood in your veins, so please drink." But Theseus saw the look in her eyes, the black smoky evil look with a tint of red, it turned up at the corners to make her look evil. He said, "You drink first." But she said, "I can't, I'm ill, I'm very ill. So I cannot drink." (But it's supposed to HEAL wounds!) He said, "Drink from it or you die!", swinging his club. She dropped the cup and ran. She called for her dragon carriage and went off, far away from the kingdom.

The stones bubbled from the wine she had spilled, and they just kind of disappeared.

Aegeus said, "What did you do? That was sort of my wife!"

But then he pulled out the sword and the sandals, and he said the words his mother bade him to say. And they hugged and wept until they could weep no more. The end!

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter (and Yardsaler)

I found this jersey dress at the thrift store. It wasn't an absolute need, although I loved the colour and the twist-knotted waist. It's a fancier style than the other dresses I have for the summer, so not as likely to be worn much (since I don't dress for an office job).
 
But...I  discovered a way to double its wear. As with so many knit-fabric dresses, it can easily be hiked up to wear as a tunic or top. Now I feel much more intentional.
I also found a really great book about the sculptor Alexander Calder, who pioneered mobiles as an art form.
We haven't been to many yard sales this year--the weather's been too cold and rainy, and they're often not what they used to be. But we did stop at a couple of sales this morning, and I found three new-in-the-package "snack bags," or washable waterproof-lined zipper pouches. I don't care that they're baby-animal fabric, I'll use them for something.
I also bought a zippered travel case for jewelry. Not that I travel much, but when I do it would be very nice to be able to keep earrings together and necklaces detangled. I will use it at home in the meantime.
That's all!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

From the archives: Need to slow down

First posted June 2014

1. Fit in seven minutes a day..."for the time-crunched masses," promises the online article.  You exercise intensely for half a minute, rest for ten seconds, and so on.  And that, if you're "time-crunched," promises health and fitness.  Fast fast fast.

2. "Do you work out?" the doctor asks my husband.  My husband mentions lawn cutting (we have a lot of grass), gardening, cleaning, fixing, and the hundred other active things he does.  But they don't seem to have a category for those.

3.  An Ontario school board is trying an iPad pilot project to encourage "essential literacy skills." They have provided electronic devices for whole classes. "I can't imagine going back now," says a teacher.

4.  I found Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village" online, something I wanted for today's school--but we also have it in an old book of poems, with a student's name and "1915" inscribed in the front in pen and ink.  I decided to read it from the book.  We also used five minutes of a video on castles to follow up the book we were using, and a super page on chemical reactions to clarify a new and difficult concept.  I have nothing against using the wonders of technology in the classroom.  But not as the only or even the main teaching tool.  And I somehow doubt that the seventh graders I saw on the news are Googling Goldsmith.

5.  Bus drivers who text AND write while driving.  We were uncomfortably close to one such today...any closer and we would have lost some paint.

6.  "I just realized," says a longtime CMer, "that I've been reading Charlotte Mason's books too fast.  I need to slow down."

Quote for the day: We fail to notice

"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice, and because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change, until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds." ~~ R.D. Laing

Monday, June 03, 2019

Paper or Plastic? It's not about the recycling.


I read Paper or Plastic, by Daniel Imhoff, very quickly, at the request of our thrift store manager who wants the staff to have a chance at it too.

The book is almost fifteen years old, and it's showing its age somewhat but still worth looking at. It's one of a series of three books, and this one is, very specifically, about the issue of packaging, large and small, including shipping packaging such as pallets. What is our burgeoning need for packaging stealing from the earth, and how in the world will we put it back? It reminded me of a rude meme misquoting The Lorax: "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees; litter again, and I'll break your (expletive) knees." But is anger all we can offer?

The message that came across from the book was not so much about the ins and outs of whether paper or plastic packaging can be recycled better, but the huge amount of resources they both demand in the first place. These days everybody knows that plastic is bad bad bad; but the truth is that paper (and wood and cardboard) hurts too. The Lorax speaking for the trees has more to worry about than litter; and that's just the packaging, we're not even talking about products. Imhoff does point out how much primary packaging relates to the thing inside it, or the amount of product demanded in one package. If people didn't think they required cup-sized amounts of yogurt, for example, then the recyclability of small plastic yogurt cups wouldn't be an issue. Or you can look at the problem more as the sheer amount of stuff that gets made and needs packaging. A thousand pairs of shoes need a thousand sets of boxes or wraps or hang-tags. If everyone bought fewer shoes in the first place, there would (obviously) be fewer trimmings to dispose of.

But how can we fight back against over-packaging caused by over-production? First and most obviously, to make do, or make do longer, with the thing we have instead of buying something else.  Intentional contentment will save us from a certain amount of Loraxian knee-breaking.

Beyond that? Thrift stores (yes, I made the connection). Yard sales, rummage sales, buying used goods locally through online ads. Swapping and borrowing. Upcycling stuff. You get double points for anything that is both pre-used and that doesn't come in a box or bag you can't easily re-use (compostable is okay).

More ways to avoid packaging, and maybe save money too: growing food. Making things at home that otherwise come in a package, like cookies or yogurt, as long as the ingredients don't produce even more packages. Buying things in person from local makers. Shopping at bulk stores and produce markets that let you re-use containers. Buying big sacks of things if it works for you. (We used to buy oatmeal and beans that way, through a buying co-op).

And yes, buying less overall. Sharing things among more people. Renting things you'll need only briefly. Having gift-free parties and swag-free meetings. In some ways, that could be more important than worrying about whether it's paper or plastic. Because our houses and apartments and storage units and closets and backpacks are packaging too.

Save some packaging. Save some trees. Save some knees.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Impatience with minimalism...or is it just the books?

In the midst of other things I should have been doing, two minimalism books  I'd had on hold popped up on my online library reader. I read them both in one evening. That's all the time I had; but that's all it took.

It might be that I've followed this topic too long for there to be any surprises. Or it might be the current trend toward books that sound like they were lifted from a blog. Decluttering at the Speed of Life was one pleasant exception; Goodbye Things was another. But most of what's being written now is a repeat of what has already been said. The short version: a) don't try to dress, cook, and decorate like you're on camera, or for an image of the outgrown past or the uncertain future; b) think harder about what you acquire and what you keep, no matter what the source, so that c) you can focus on who you are and what you have right now. That doesn't rule out personal treasures, history and nostalgia: it makes room for the elements you've chosen (even a velvet Elvis) by eliminating other forgettable or forgotten things. It doesn't rule out three pairs of scissors in the house, if you use three pairs of scissors; or ten turtleneck sweaters, if turtleneck sweaters are your thing. (But maybe you give away all the crewnecks you never wear.)  If you love and use your George Foreman grill, then keep it without shame. But if it's collecting dust, donate it.

A useful word I've picked up lately from Joshua Becker is "optimalism." (I think that's the way he spelled it.) Minimal implies less, restriction, doing without, dull. Optimal points in another direction: choosing well, and then being grateful and satisfied with those choices.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter: Toothpaste and Pearls

I posted my summer clothes earlier, but I've made a couple of small additions, plus I thrifted a pair of not-running-shoes which were on the top of my wish list. They're in very good shape, and seem (so far) to fit and not rub in the wrong places.
I also found a toothpaste-green tank top, shown alone and with a plaid shirt I already had.
I found a scarf that combines denim blue, teal, red, grey, and a few other colours. Any scarf maker who thinks blue and teal work together is okay by me.
And, finally, a jersey tank dress which looks like nothing at all in the photo, and which you might pass by on the hanger too. Which just proves...something. It was brand new with tags, in a light grey colour called "matte pearl," and it will probably get worn a lot this summer.
Two ways I might wear it:
So, sometimes when you think you're done--it's still worth keeping your eyes open.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

How green is green? (Product Review of Duffield Design)

Treehouse readers know a couple of things about me and my clothes-buying habits. First, I'm usually a thrifter, although I have gone out of my way, once or twice, to buy new dresses from Canadian makers promoting sustainability and made-right-here. But not often. Even my favourite purple dress from Miik was an accidental find at the Salvation Army.

The other thing you might remember is that I've been looking for a decent solid-coloured t-shirt-style dress for a very long time. One problem has been that they tend to be designed without much shape, and I would rather not spend a hundred-dollars-plus on a potato sack, no matter how low its carbon footprint. And the cheaper ones either don't last well, or haven't been popular, at least if you go by the low numbers that turn up at the thrift store. I've been searching almost weekly for over a year, and the closest I came was this long black dress. And that turned out to be, well, too black. I prefer something more cheerful.

Recently I was looking at the Spring/Summer collection on the website of Duffield Design, a small company that uses "green" fabrics and has its sewing done in Canada. I had liked a couple of their pieces last winter, although I didn't need them badly enough to buy anything. Most of their tops and dresses this season were in colours I didn't gravitate to (black, nude), but one dress stood out on the page: the Sphinx Tie Dress in Seafoam. I thought about it for awhile; had a few more tries at finding something comparable secondhand; and finally ordered one.

I'm glad I did. It's a dress I can wear for summer happenings, but it's not too fancy to wear for everyday things. (Maybe not dragging boxes at the thrift store, but other than that.)  The hip sash can be tied in front or behind, and it can even be worn tunic-length.The fabric (Bamboo-Cotton-Spandex Stretch French Terry) and the construction seem to be excellent. The fit, always a wild card when you order online, was fine, not a potato sack. (I got a Small.)

The hardest part of trying to post a review has been getting a picture of this quite intensely green dress that doesn't show up looking more teal or turquoise (my photo at the beginning reads a bit too blue). The photo below is the closest I was able to persuade the camera to come.
Think somewhere between the cactus and the handle of the teapot for a better take on "green."
Here's the dress with my "#AOCM2019 scarf":
And with another current favourite scarf:
So if you're thinking green (even if it's black or nude), and want to shop Canadian, check out Duffield Design.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Wendell Berry and Us (Fashion Revolution Week, Final Post)

"Care in small matters makes us trustworthy in greater. When we come to be trusted with the property of others, whether in money or material, we are on our guard against wastefulness, carelessness, extravagance, because integrity requires that we should take care of and make the most of whatever property is put into our hands..." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 177-178
"At present, too ignorant to know how ignorant we are, we believe that we are free to impose our will upon the land with the utmost power and speed to gain the largest profit in the shortest time...The woods is left a shambles, for nobody thought of the forest rather than the trees." ~~ Wendell Berry, "A Forest Conversation," in Our Only World 
For Christians, the idea of being entrusted with another's property is integral to our understanding of stewardship. God made it all. He gives it to us...trusts us to care for it, not (as Mason says elsewhere) to throw battery acid into the watch workings.

There's also the proverb about borrowing the earth from our grandchildren. Caring for what belongs to others also means honouring the past and thinking of the future. What do we want to hand down, and I don't mean just ecology-wise?
"Any conversation at home between grandparents and grandchildren is potentially the beginning of a local culture, even of a sustaining local culture, however it might be cut short and wasted." ~~ Wendell Berry
Do we want to pass down the values of big ideas and small things, and not just growth for its own sake? Then we have to live like that ourselves. To repeat something from a previous year's Fashion Revolution post: it's never too late to plant some pizza seeds.
"To learn to meet our needs without continuous violence against one another and our only world would require an immense intellectual and practical effort, requiring the help of every human being perhaps to the end of human time.
"This would be work worthy of the name 'human.' It would be fascinating and lovely." ~~ Wendell Berry
So what does this mean when we buy socks?
"The logger who is free of financial anxiety can stop and think." 
"We...must think of reverence, humility, affection, familiarity, neighborliness, cooperation, thrift, appropriateness, local loyalty. These terms return us to the best of our heritage. They bring us home." ~~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Our Duty to Buy Stuff (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"What we want is––not the best thing that can be had at the lowest possible price––but a thing suitable for our purpose, at a price which we can afford to pay and know to be just.
 "Looked at from this point of view, the whole matter is simplified; we are no longer perpetually running round, harassing ourselves and wearing out other people in the search after bargains. Every purchase becomes a simple, straightforward duty. We feel it to be a matter of integrity to deal with tradesmen of our own neighbourhood, so far as they can supply us. If they fail to do so, we are at liberty to go further afield; but in this case, we soon fix upon the distant tradesman who can supply our needs, and escape the snare of bargain-hunting." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 176-177
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. ~~ Proverbs 31:13-16, 18

Does Proverbs 31 prove that we have a justifiable need to buyeth things? The condition, though, seems to be "wisely."

In the previous passages from Charlotte Mason's Ourselves, she focused on the issue of debt; here she is concerned with wasted time and effort. You've done the dollar math, she says; now figure out your other costs. Even being disorganized in planning, not having bought what you should have realized you were going to need (or not being able to find it in a mess) costs something. Ordering a bargain item of poor quality (Proverbs 31:18) costs return postage, and delay while you search for something better, and even (as Mason says) creates hassle for other people.

In this age of technology, we have useful shopping tools at our disposal. We can not only locate a "distant tradesman" who has exactly what we need, but we can read customer reviews of those products. We can also, ironically, find out about and order from farmers and craftspeople who produce goods almost in our own backyards. Provided we use the tools wisely, shopping both "afield" and locally has never been easier. (As many have found, too easy.)

We're also encouraged to maximize what we do have (verse 16) and use it for God's glory. If we buy land, the goal is to plant on it, and share the harvest with others. If we buy craft supplies (verse 13), we don't let them gather dust.

How does that apply to the area of clothing and fast fashion? We choose carefully, think about how we'll wear the shoes or the pants, think about whether it's the right time to buy. We read the fine print in the description, study the size charts and the reviews, figure out our price point. But then we ask one more question about the item we're considering: "Who Made My Clothes?"

If we have a feeling that we wouldn't like the answer, we'd better say no. 

This series will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Happy Integrity of Getting Dressed (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

Apologies: this is Wednesday's post, coming to you a little early.

"Honesty.––'My duty towards my neighbour is––to keep my hands from picking and stealing'; so says the Church Catechism, and this is the common acceptation of the word honesty. We should, of course, all scorn to take what belongs to another person, and feel ourselves safe so far, anyway, as this charge goes....[But] one caution we must bear in mind.––we may not spend what we have not got...The schoolboy who gets 'tick' [credit] or borrows from his schoolmates grows into the man who is behind-hand with his accounts, and that means, not only an injury to the persons who have supplied him with their goods, but a grave injury to himself. He becomes so harassed and worried with the pressure of debts here and debts there, that he has no room in his mind for thoughts that are worth while. His loss of integrity is a leak which sinks his whole character...That beautiful whole which we call integrity is marred by sins of negligence." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 174-176
There's no free lunch...or free t-shirt. The earth pays, in water consumption, factory pollution, and eventual disposal. Fabric makers and clothing sewists pay, especially if they are very young, in missed opportunities for education, and by entrapment in an economic system that does not pay them fairly or respect them as persons. Consumers pay, probably not the true cost, but just enough to keep them anxious about credit card bills and guilty about the mess in their closets. They pay by staying just as trapped by the same system of too much but never enough: as Charlotte Mason says, harassed, worried, and pressured. This is not a happy scenario.

But what is enough? As Cal Newport says in Digital Minimalism, it can be hard to get a clear picture of what you need (in any part of life) until you've tried living with only the essentials. Courtney Carver's Project 333 is one strategy for a clothing rethink, as is going on a buying fast like Lee Simpson. The point of both is not so much to save money as to increase gratitude, spur creativity, and bring us back to what used to be normal life. (Not shopping as entertainment, and not having a new outfit for every occasion.)

How can we keep from being, morally and literally, "behind-hand with our accounts?" How can we shop and dress in a way that creates more happiness? I don't think there is just one answer. The principle might be integrity, but the practice is going to look different for everybody.

For me this week, happy shopping looked like an off-white cotton-ramie sweater from the thrift store. The sweater appears to be hand-crocheted, but it has a commercial care label in it (the brand label has been cut out), which says Made in China. It seems unfathomable that a single crocheter would put that much time and skill into hand-making a sweater like this--and then, probably, another one, and another one. My hands would hurt after making just one sleeve (I hate crocheting with thread). If someone out there knows more about commercial needlework, please enlighten me. (Do robots crochet?) As it is, though, it makes me want to hold up a #FashionRevolution sign asking "Who Made My Clothes?" 

The sweater was not a bare necessity, but it was bought with a purpose: I needed a neutral top to go with a recently-thrifted summer skirt which appears to have been home-sewn. (The person either forgot to sew the skirt hem or it came out afterwards: I have to fix that before I can wear it.)

The bonus: it will go with a lot of other things, like this shirt jacket.
And scarves (of course).
I feel happy about giving a second life to what appears to be somebody's hard work. I'm happy that it fits in well with my other clothes. I'm happy that I could buy it at a thrift-store price and support M.C.C.  And I'm very happy that now I have more "room in my mind for thoughts that are worth while." I need all of that I can get.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Through Our Fingers, and Nothing Done (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

 
"It is astonishing how much time there is in a day, and how many things we can get in if we have a mind. It is also astonishing how a day, a week, or a year may slip through our fingers, and nothing done. We say we have done no harm, that we have not meant to do wrong. We have simply let ourselves drift." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 173
I first posted about Fashion Revolution Week in 2016, so this is my fourth attempt at making sense of what has happened and what is still happening. Have the problems of fast fashion changed at all in three or in the six years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse? Are working conditions better or worse? Are the rivers in Asia any less polluted? Has this winter's tidying-up fad made people any more thoughtful about how or where they find their clothes?

My take on the ethical wardrobe has been attempted (to use a current Charlotte Mason thought) "however imperfectly." Mall trips and visits to new clothing stores are pretty rare for me. The majority of my clothes were bought used, mostly from the thrift store where I volunteer, occasionally from a consignment store. I have a couple of pieces from sustainable clothing brands, and some fair-trade jewelry.  But the discount food-clothing-everything store beside our building is also a source of temptation, especially when you look past the blingy stuff and see that they do have decent-quality shirts, sneakers, socks, and even purses (one of my most-used favourites came from there, and you probably couldn't tell which one). And as I've posted before, both my pairs of comfortable but inexpensive ankle boots came from Walmart. The cliché of buying top quality keepers vs. low-cost junk has not always held true; sometimes discount-store sneakers and boots have been exactly what I needed and have held up surprisingly well.
I wish I had a satisfies-everything answer to all of this. As Charlotte Mason says, I don't mean to do wrong when I choose a shirt or a pair of shoes. She also said you should just figure out what you need, and then go and buy it (or have it made), as locally as possible and without undue fuss. Ruminating over where clothes come from should not become either narcissistic or masochistic.

But drift happens. Maybe I need to mean a little harder to do right. Especially when rivers still turn blue, and factories still fall down.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Curb that Filly, Inclination (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

 
"The Habit of Finishing.––What is worth beginning is worth finishing, and what is worth doing is worth doing well. Do not let yourself begin to make a dozen things, all of them tumbling about unfinished in your box. Of course there are fifty reasons for doing the new thing; but here is another case where we must curb that filly, Inclination. It is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are doing until it is finished. Even so, there is the temptation to scamp in order to get at the new thing; but let us do each bit of work as perfectly as we know how, remembering that each thing we turn out is a bit of ourselves, and we must leave it whole and complete; for this is Integrity." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 171-172
"Loved clothes last." ~~ FashionRevolution.org 

Can we play MadLibs with Charlotte Mason here?
"Do not let yourself [buy] a dozen things [impulsively], all of them tumbling about in your [closet]. Of course there are fifty reasons for [buying] the new thing, but...it is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are [wearing] until it is finished...Let us use each piece of [clothing] as [creatively] as we know how, remember that each [piece of clothing] we [use 
well] is a bit of ourselves..."
Between three and four years ago, I got rid of most of my clothes. In my defense, most of them were well-worn already; many were rummage-saled and thrifted, and some had been handed to me by someone who bought multiples of anything (usually black) on sale. Disposing of them did not cause me a great deal of pain, except for the bepuzzlement of figuring out what I was going to replace them with. When I did start re-thrifting a wardrobe, it became, we'll say, very fluid: a lot came in, and a lot went out again. I'm working at curbing that filly, Inclination; I still bring home new clothes, but I'm choosing them more carefully and keeping them longer.
It's only this year that I've been able to look at what I have and realize that I've been wearing some of the same clothes for the past three years, with no plans yet to get rid of them. We're starting to have a history together. (Some of you can probably do way better than that, but I had to start somewhere.)
Fall, 2016

This series will continue tomorrow.