Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent

Most of you know that I love love love Advent-- it's my favorite liturgical season, and one that I really love marking with a distinct set of spiritual practices. For the last two years, Ben and I (and our faith community) have been celebrating advent by working through a book entitled "Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen." It's a beautiful book, and has devotions for each day of Advent that contain a passage from some of Nouwen's writing, a biblical passage, a prayer, and what they call an "advent action."

In addition to our daily devotions, we love having a special celebration each Sunday of Advent. Ben's mom has totally paved the way for this tradition-- in their home, they have special Advent treats, Advent songs, and a candle lighting ceremony each Sunday of Advent. We've taken to continuing that tradition in our household, and each Sunday we sit down and have a time that we spend together in song, prayer, and feasting. So later tonight we're going to dim the lights, light that first lonely candle Advent, and begin the season of waiting (which feels so much more centered than black friday!).

Here's today's special Advent treat, a modified recipe from my dear friend Kathryn:

Candied Walnuts
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 t cinnamon
1t vanilla
2 cups walnuts
1/4 t kosher salt

1. Boil milk and sugar to about 234-240 degrees, which for those of you who, like me, have no candy thermometer, is roughly until it just starts to turn a little off-white.
2. Add cinnamon and vanilla, and pour over walnuts
3. Continue stirring until the syrup cools down a bit and turns into a candy coating.
4. Sprinkle with kosher salt

Enjoy! And I hope everyone has a blessed and peaceful Advent!

At the Foot of the Goddess

Here is a beautiful poem that my friend Sara shared at our first female spirituality gathering last saturday (more on this later). I photocopied the poem (translated from Spanish), but forgot to write down the name of the author, so I'll edit that in as soon as I find it out:

It's true that I have betrayed you.
For years I put you off with empty arguments.
How I ignored your calls!
I wanted to plug my ears with golden
beeswax, but
your song was not that of a siren.
Even in dreams you pursued me;
you made an anvil of my poor head
and I, stubborn, refused to obey you.

But you, goddess, prevailed over me
and over the will of those who wished
to enchain me in an ancient role.

No one can say I was a coward
because in some way I knew how to resist.
You filtered in, a breath that expanded my soul.
At least I have survived, Goddess, and I speak to you,
Victor: I am yours forever.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Breastfeeding Virgin Mary

My favorite icon that is currently on our mantel is a small painting of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. The picture, which was a baptism gift to Zosia from my Aunt Basia, is very small, so it requires a very close look to even notice that Mary is breastfeeding-- but I love love love it. When we received it, it shifted the way I thought about Jesus. I somehow had never really thought about Jesus as a breastfeeding baby. It brought my understanding of his full humanity to an entirely new level. As Ben always says, some Christians never move beyond the notion of Jesus as God in a man suit. But in reality, he was fully God and fully human, which is just so difficult to understand that we often drop the human part.

Check out this article about the Vatican encouraging Catholics to be more accepting of icons of a breastfeeding Jesus (thanks, Michelle, for passing this along!):

By the way, we're traveling to Connecticut and Boston this week, so my posts might not be quite as consistent, but I'll be back at the end of the week with at least one new Thanksgiving recipe to share!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Home or Birth Center?

After several weeks of insurance limbo about the birth of this child, we have received some great news from our insurance company (Anthem Healthkeepers HMO). Since they don't have any in-network midwives in the area, they've pre-approved us to use the midwives that we were hoping to go with, who are based in Alexandria. We like this practice of midwives because they do both home births and birth center births, remind us of the Cambridge Birth Center, which we loved, and are within a reasonable driving distance. So now that we're finally cleared to do our prenatal care and delivery with these midwives, we have to decide whether we want a home birth or another delivery at a birth center. Since as far as we know, we have another low-risk pregnancy on our hands, the safety of either option is a non-issue-- the midwives take the same precautions in both locations, and are prepared to make a transfer to a hospital in the event of a complication.

Here's what I'm thinking today.

Advantages of a home birth:
  • we don't have to drive to the birth center (this is huge, because I can't imagine spending an hour of labor in the car... in Boston we had 3 minutes of labor in the car and that felt way too long)
  • we don't have to drive anywhere after the birth and can just rest/ sleep at home after labor
  • we are most comfortable in our home environment
  • second babies tend to come fast, so we have the advantage of already being at our delivery point
  • we don't have to worry about taking Zosia anywhere, since she'll be happy to be at home
  • we have all our stuff/food here
Advantages of the birth center/ disadvantages of home birth:
  • i thought it was kind of nice to change scenery mid-labor last time... maybe because I was practically fully dilated by the time we got the birth center and was just happy to start pushing
  • at the birth center, you don't have to get all the delivery stuff ready (there's a looong list of things you have to prepare for a home birth)
  • the laboring tub at the birth center is infinitely more comfortable than our 1950's era tub that doesn't even have an inclined back
  • at the birth center, i could walk around and be as vocal as I want to without having to worry about waking Zosia up (although I'm seriously praying that this next labor takes place entirely during the day... man, it was hard to make up for a full night missed sleep)
  • During rush hour, the drive could take an hour or more
I'm sure that both lists will grow as I learn more about each option, but I think that if I had to make the decision today, I would go with home birth, especially after talking to a mom who just had a home birth a week ago (and also has a toddler at home) and loved it. I'll let you know when we decide for sure!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anti-Anti Buy Nothing Day

Today I've been reading all about Buy Nothing Day-- a sort of protest of Black Friday that many in the counter-culture have been participating in for years (heck, I remember hanging up posters for buy nothing day in high school). So, as is always the case in liberal circles, something can only be revolutionary for so long before we liberals have to start a revolution against the revolution. I've come across several opinion pieces/blogs challenging buy nothing day as a white liberal elitism (and make something day, the recent spin off where people are called to get crafty as essentially a waste of time and craft supplies). Some of the arguments resonate with me: people have said that the true poor rely on opportunities like black friday to get things that they really need, like computers for their children. Others have said that we should save all the energy spent on crafts towards getting things that people actually need. So, I get the arguments. But come on, people. Can't we just come together behind a noble cause for more than a week before we start splintering into factions and somehow claiming that we're more enlightened than the enlightened?**

Here's why I like buy nothing day: it challenges consummerism on the single day the most symbolically associated with overconsumption. Perhaps there are a few low income folks waiting in line for their first computer, but I bet that the vast majority of people are waiting for their new i-phone, luxury sneakers, or flat screen television. If black friday is a cornerstone in your survival strategy, then by all means get in line! But let's not pretend that somehow that's what it is for most people. Events like black friday are put on by retailers precicely because the frenzy of it all causes people to act irrationally and buy crazy amounts of stuff. Think Filene's Basement wedding dresses. People start grabbing for anything and everything and it gets ugly. This is not survival, it's gluttony.

This black friday I plan on avoiding the retail scene, mainly because I don't care for it and don't need the kinds of things that one is likely to get a "steal" on on black friday... they are the sorts of things that are the bells and whistles of life and not the bare bones. I think it's great if others decide to do the same. It's not going to change the world (it might not change anything at all), but it's still powerful to participate in a noble cause together with others that are filled with hope for the future.

** Of course, I guess that makes me the person who thinks that I'm more enlightened than the people who are more enlightened than the enlightened. Whew, this is why I went to Harvard!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Owning My Identity

In many social circles that I belong to-- the new mommy social circle, the social circle of my neighborhood, my church social circle among many-- my age is something that I feel embarrassed about. The truth is, often times I'm 15-20 years younger than the people whose friendship I appreciate and who value me as an equal. Ben and I generally avoid the topic of age. However, it has this way of always coming up... eventually. People are often circumspect about it, asking questions like, "So... when did you graduate highschool?" or once they learn that Ben and I are highschool sweethearts, "How long does that mean you two have been together?" My guess is that many of them are curious about our age. Neither of us look particularly mature and we both look young enough that us having a toddler is somewhat scandalous. I still remember once in Somerville when I attended mass by myself with Zosia, an older woman came up to me afterwards and congratulated me for being "such a brave girl." I had no idea what she was talking about, and only later realized that she must have assumed I was a teen mother.

Anyway, age is something that I'm very careful about and generally avoid. The reason is that the times that my age has been "outed," I have often felt a shift in the relationship. People stop treating me as an equal, stop confiding in me, start feeling awkward around me. The other day my age was outed to some of our very favorite neighbors, and the embarrassment that it created caused me to do a little reflection. Why is my age something that I'm uncomfortable with? And, will there ever be a time when I'm truly comfortable with my age? I mean, it seems like as soon as one outgrows the "you're just a little baby" stage, they enter the "you're practically retired" stage, where being too old is something they're nervous about.

All this is to say that I have decided to own my age boldly. I may be only 25, and that might mean that I don't have as much life experience as some, but that is just a part of who I am. I guess I'm not used to being marginalized for a part of my identity. In an ideal world, no one would be marginalized for any part of their identity. But in the mean time, I can always challenge people's assumptions about 20-somethings, or possibly gauge their authenticity by how they treat me once they find out the truth. Our neighbors delivered-- they both think it's cute and funny and it's something they tease us about now, but without compromising our friendship.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Boob Tube

For a few years now, Ben and I have been intentional about television. For us, that means that we usually alternate between watching no tv (easier during the spring and summer months, when we spend the whole evening outside), and carefully choosing which television programs we do watch (miss marple, independent lens, and football generally make the cut). Of course we're not perfect or legalistic about this decision, but it's something that we've tried out in our lives and found to be a positive and enriching decision. The less tv we watch, the more we read, talk to one another, and engage in other leisure activities. It's a form of simplification that makes us feel good, and we're happy that Zosia is growing up in a home where human contact is a priority over electronic contact.

So, it's always interesting to come accross research/articles that explore the effect of television on people. Today I came accross this article, which discusses research that asserts that people who watch a lot of tv are more unhappy than those who watch less. I know that days that I do veg out in front of the tv, watching whatever junk might be on, are the days that I'm most listless and down-- even moreso after the tv watching than before it. I'll definitely try to remember that the next time I'm about to laps from my commitment!

Foreclosure Article

Busted Halo just published a piece I wrote about buying our house. Check it out if you get the chance:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Men

I can't quite believe that in just a few short weeks Advent will have begun! This year, I'm trying something I've never done before, which is doing the consumer part of Christmas before Advent begins. I've heard of people doing this and have always thought, "Wow. That must be wonderful to just truly focus on the gift of Jesus during Advent," but am always one of those people scrambling to get presents together at the last minute.

Ben and I have been thinking about Christmas presents. We want to give gifts that are meaningful, simple, and this year more than others, affordable. As in previous years, I think we're going to try to make some of our gifts (I've often found that these are the ones that are the most joyful to give). But we just don't have the time to do all handmade gifts for everyone. The other night Ben threw out the idea of buying all our gifts at goodwill. Some of our own most treasured clothing items, books, jewelry and household items were bought at thrift stores. Going to a thrift store with someone in mind but no particular thing in sight always feels like a treasure hunt, and I feel like most of the time you can find something really special that is affordable. It is the greenest present option, benefits people who are on the margins of society (especially at stores like goodwill and salvation army), and is one of the few ways that this year we'll be able to stay within our teeny budget.

This afternoon we might go on our first trip, and I'm excited about scouting out special things. I know that in the formal world of present giving re-gifting/ buying used things is totally taboo, but you know what? I hope that our friendships and relationships are real enough that those who we care about will receive their quirky, thrift store-y gifts and say, "I get it."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At the Checkout Counter

Over the past year, Ben and I have learned that simple living while you're pretty financially comfortable is a different beast than simple living when times are tough. Simple living when times are comfortable is cute-- it's trendy, makes you feel good, and, unless you've got a will much stronger than me, paves the road for lots of corner-cutting. You can splurge every now and then, and your checking account won't call your bluff. Simple living when times are tough, however, is a challenge. You literally can't splurge, and that means that something that once seemed so charming and nice is all of a sudden a grim reality that you're stuck in.

To try to pay down the credit card debt we accrued while working on our house, we're sticking to a very strict $100 a week grocery budget. Which, when we were making the budget, sounded like a breeze. Although, when that amount includes all household items (toilet paper, paper towels), all eating out/entertainment, as well as groceries, money starts to get tight. And, since we're still getting adjusted to it, sometimes we get to mid-week and realize, "Crap! We need milk and we've used up our money."

Take today at the grocery store. I had $10 in cash left over to spend on food at the grocery store and we needed milk, eggs, dental floss, apple juice, and whole wheat flour. After circling around the store for long enough that the store clerks started giving me strange looks, I gathered together a half gallon of milk, 8 eggs (what would you even call that? Three quarters a dozen?), a bag of store-brand flour, some off-brand floss, and a can of frozen apple juice concentrate. I hopefully took my goods to the checkout, honestly unsure whether I was going to make it under 10 bucks. I held my breath while I scanned my last item and pressed "finish and pay." And..... I made it! With 88 cents to spare. I felt relieved and totally accomplished-- and realized that this, this is truly simple living.

I have often thought of the verse in the Gospel where Jesus talks about not worrying.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!"
But what does something like that mean when you're saving money for a down payment, maxing out on retirement savings in your 401k and comfortably insured? It doesn't really make sense. Of course, here I am blogging from my heated home, without any serious worries on my horizon. But moments of vulnerability like that second of uncertainty at the checkout counter where I didn't know if I could buy this food that my family needs, give me teeny glimpses into what Jesus is talking about, and drastically transform the way I think about trusting God.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Creating Community

Last night I talked to Rachel-- a very dear friend who just relocated with her partner to Seattle. We caught up about family stuff, health stuff, and eventually landed on the topic of community. Community and communal living is a passion, and my own powerful experience of community in Boston set the bar very high for creating a similar community of faith wherever I may go. But, Rachel and I both agreed that finding community is hard. It is a challenge to find a group of people who share a vision of caring for the least among us, simple living, and intentional community. And once you find such a group, it's difficult to make that community more meaningful than just a group of like minded, similarly-situated individuals sharing dinner. And when the lifestyle of a 20-something often leads to relocating every few years, that difficulty is compounded by the instability of our communities once we do establish them. I have myself sometimes thought, "What's the point?" That seems to be the conclusion that so many of us have come to.

Here in Virginia, finding community has been both easy and hard. Since we moved into an area filled with family, old friends, and connections, we never really felt as isolated and lonely as we did when we first moved to Boston. We are blessed to have many family members that are on our wavelength when it comes to striving to live meaningfully as Christians. And we've connected with a lot of families with young children in our neighborhood who we are thrilled to share the parent part of our personalities with. However, I feel like our sense of belonging here has made it easy for us to become complacent in searching out a deep, diverse community. Searching for community is almost easier when you do feel that sense of isolation than it is when you're overall pretty content with your life as is.

I'm left wondering what my ideal community would be like, what it would feel like. I always think of the early Christians who had all things in common, sharing all aspects of their lives, despite the many differences between them, and think, "Wow." And yet, I also think, "How on earth did they do that?" So here's to the hope of finding new community in new cities, in unexpected places, and through deeper relationships.