Archive for the ‘downsized living’ Category

Lots of interesting  and stubbornly eccentric thoughts on reading books from Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal with “My 6,128 Favourite Books”:

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

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Quite unlike many collectors, they weren’t wealthy, living and collecting their entire lives on their salaries and their pensions. The couple did not, however, sell a single piece until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. Estimates of its value range well into the millions. “We could have easily become millionaires,” Mr Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992, adding: “But we weren’t concerned about that aspect.”..

..  Herb, who never completed high school, and Dorothy, who survives him, had simple criteria when buying art: it had to be inexpensive, small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom flat…

.. Artists considered it a privilege to be included in their collection and an even greater honour to be invited to their apartment for a meal. Dorothy would sometimes offer a TV dinner that she warmed up in the oven. “They were a couple without children,” said Ruth Fine, a recently retired curator at the National Gallery. “The works of art became the absolute focus of their lives.”

When Mr Vogel retired from the Postal Service in 1979, he used his pension to buy more art. He and Dorothy began to think about their legacy, and many top museums came calling. Eventually, after years of negotiations, they agreed to send the heart of their collection to the National Gallery. When curators began to catalogue the collection, it took five full-size moving trucks to transport the Vogels’ art to Washington from their apartment.

Despite his obvious penchant, Mr Vogel could not always articulate why he liked certain works of art more than others or what he looked for when collecting. “I just like art,” he said in 1992. “I don’t know why I like art. I don’t know why I like nature. I don’t know why I like animals. I don’t know why I even like myself.” Washington Post

“The ordinary couple with an extraordinary art collection” from The Independent. Love this.

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You must read this wonderful essay in aeon magazine from economist, John Quiggin – “The Golden Age: The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil”.

Quiggin takes Keynes’ theory and in this essay fixes up some of the old oversights by talking about how happiness and money could be shared more equitably to include the marginalised like, stay at home parents, women, artists, the working poor and those who cannot (for a variety of reasons) work. After you have read this essay you will understand why capitalist feminism, which dominates in the USA, can frustrate me.

But far from weakening Keynes’s case against a money-driven society, the problems of caring for children illustrate the way in which our current economic order fails to deliver a good life, even for the groups who are doing relatively well in economic terms. The workplace structures that define a successful career today require the most labour from ‘prime-age’ workers aged between 25 and 50, the stage when the demands of caring for children are greatest.

Yes, the essay does have a bit of economics in it but I think it is all quite manageable, so don’t be put off, read on .. and if you’re having trouble with understanding any of it copy and paste the relevant bit into the comments below and I will try to ‘layperson’ the economics for you.

Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.

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I’m in two minds about this compelling article about food fascism – “Why I Hate Food” by Mary Rechner, and it is partly because my own cynicism about this movement is being slowly watered down by my recent participation in it.

Becoming a mother seemed to increase the number of interactions I had with people attempting to make me feel insecure. People began asking many questions designed to determine if I was nursing too much or too little, whether I was too attached or not attached enough, and how I planned to educate my progeny, i.e. was I planning to home school? (Add providing a comprehensive K-12 education to that to-do list!) When my children began eating solid food, people were curious to know what I was feeding them, i.e. did I use a food mill and grind the sweet potato myself or did it come from a jar?

Perhaps we focus so closely on food because feeding our families creates an illusion of control. On Facebook, a friend posts about her son refusing to eat a conventionally-grown banana. He can taste the difference—he will only eat organic. What is the subtext of such a post? My child has been taught correctly? My child has learned what I’ve taught? We are good, we are safe, no harm will come to us? Perhaps also this: If your child cannot taste this difference between organic and conventional bananas, clearly our family is better than yours.

As a child, my elder son never set foot in a McDonald’s. He believed us when we told him the burgers were unhealthy. As a pre-teen, he watched Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me, and his anti-McDonald’s stance appeared permanently fixed. He refused even one bite of my large fries. We were at a Connecticut rest stop on I-95—I was desperate! Thus, I never could have imagined the current scenario: my teenage son regularly hanging out in McDonald’s after school. When I asked him if he eats any of the food, he replied, “I eat all of it.”

There is a problem with über-mumming and radical housewife movements in that they do not particularly rock the status quo – one where women’s labour is under-valued and under-recognised.. but on the other hand, not everyone is going to be an artist or a writer so homecrafts probably aren’t, in reality, robbing us of all the world’s female artists. And is there anything wrong with women finding something artistic and beautiful about their everyday pursuits? Basically, home-makers are a fucking soft target.

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When travelling to rural Alaska I learnt that people there don’t lock their homes. When they’re away, especially in winter, they don’t just leave them unlocked, they prepare a fire ready to be lit in the hearth, and they stock the cupboards with food and water. I remember an Alaskan seeing my surprise at this and saying, “It’s not like where you live; we still need each other here.”

Perhaps this is why a stranger’s kindness resonates? In cities and suburbs, more so in affluent countries, day-to-day survival isn’t an issue any more (even if it doesn’t always feel like that). We don’t physically need one another in order to live now. And without needing one another, we’re not properly connected. Where would the sense of connection come from?

Alaska made me realise we lost meaning once our survival was secured. The struggle for survival is the meaning, and if your survival’s even moderately in question, that ties you to others around you – it forces you to team up with them, depend on them, serve them. Real or imagined danger connects people, and our connection to others is scientifically proven to be the pinnacle of experience.

About a paragraph into this piece, “Bonding with strangers” I was like, god, I love this, who is the writer and then I realised it was Jon Bauer, a writer I have mentioned before on here. I really like Jon Bauer’s writing.

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This article, “Revolutionary Plots” by Rebecca Solnit at Orion Magazine is a terrifically thought-provoking read:

We are in an era when gardens are front and center for hopes and dreams of a better world or just a better neighborhood, or the fertile space where the two become one. There are farm advocates and food activists, progressive farmers and gardeners, and maybe most particular to this moment, there’s a lot of urban agriculture. These city projects hope to overcome the alienation of food, of labor, of embodiment, of land, the conflicts between production and consumption, between pleasure and work, the destructiveness of industrial agriculture, the growing problems of global food scarcity, seed loss. The list of ideals being planted and tended and sometimes harvested is endless, but the question is simple. What crops are you tending? What do you hope to grow? Hope? Community? Health? Pleasure? Justice? Gardens represent the idealism of this moment and its principal pitfall, I think. A garden can be, after all, either the ground you stand on to take on the world or how you retreat from it, and the difference is not always obvious…

.. When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food.


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I love this article from The New York Times so much. “The ‘Busy’ Trap” by Tim Kreider. Everything this.

.. Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life…

..What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…

I have been loving ‘slow parenting’ ideas for about the same length of time that I have been intensively parenting while working frantically, so it is a stupidly slow transition to ‘slowing down’ in life, apparently.

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I really enjoyed this piece in Daily Life from Sarah McDonald, who is a lovely writer:

We could not afford another bedroom or a garden in the inner city and also wanted and needed to be close to our ageing parents.   Reluctantly, we became real estate refugees who went back to where we came from – a suburb where the land is cheap(er) and the homes a bit bigger.

So, here I am, one suburb away from where I grew up.  I’m in a street with trees, hedges and a Sunday morning sound of lawnmowers blending with the smell of bacon. I’ve submitted.  I’ve compromised.  I’ve mainstreamed. I’ve become predictable, reliable and sensible.  I’ve heard most people die within five kilometres of where they’re born and now I understand how that happens without finding it infinitely depressing.

I’ll confess that inside this gilded coffin I’m a touch frustrated.  Most people in my suburb don’t talk about politics, art and religion; the passion of debate is reserved for mean teachers and the inadequate size of the garbage bins. Book club is the closest I get to wild Paris and danger – but the brawl is over who ate all the chocolate almonds rather than the French novel.  To take a walk on the wild side I’ve joined a fitness group – but that’s a story for another day.

And yet, when my kids play cricket on the road with the neighbours and the parents share a drink behind the garbage bin wicket, I feel a sense of great belonging.   When a local dresses up as Santa and throws icy poles at the street party I understand the childish joy in familiar ritual.   When we stop to chat to locals I see childish contentment in the community.

What amuses me about Australia is that few of us actually like to admit we are suburban. And yet most of us are.

I experienced a very similar path back into suburbia, though I have to say I have been surprised by how many other people like us I have met out here in this end of suburbia.

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Here is a lovely message of solidarity from (the very crunchy) writer of Sew Liberated on that ‘Mother Wars’ thing. This is a particularly important message because Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated is the creator of a very successful sewing, crafting and Montessori parenting publishing business, as well as being a much-loved mother blogger.

I just want to add something here – an apology of sorts – if this post made any other mama feel overwhelmed in any way. My dear friend commented to me today that some people might feel worried that, if they’re not teaching reading at age three, then they are not “up to par” as a mother. Let me tell you something – we mamas need to stick up for each other. Breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, no TV, media-rich, public schooling, private schooling, homeschooling, working, or stay-at-home. Being a mother is the hardest job out there. We all have ideals that, at times, we can uphold with ease, and at other times, life just throws us curve balls. You totally don’t need to homeschool to be the best mama for your little one, nor do you need to teach them to read – it’s just as acceptable to wait for that to happen in school! This reading stuff is a teeny tiny part of our days. Most of it is outside, unstrucured, and – like many households with young children – chaotic. Also, Finn goes to a Waldorf home nursery two mornings a week, and my parents care for both boys those afternoons. I’m a mix between an working mama and a stay-at-home mama, and I have the odd advantage of having a partner who is in the same boat as me.

She is the kind of mother who can easily get painted as the Über-Mumming type, the kind that critics of ‘attachment parenting and homesteading’ sites love to rubbish. I have had my own suspicions about these sites from time to time. But after following a number of them for several years I have come to the conclusion that, generally speaking, these mamas are trying to find ways of celebrating and articulating the joys of motherhood and domestic life. That’s not to say that they don’t understand or experience the crappy bits, too, but in a world lacking good representations of mother-love, beyond those wince-inducing attempts by Hallmark cards, they’re doing something significant on their blogs. And I like it; I like seeing beautiful expressions of parenting because I love mothering and I need to celebrate the good as well as protest the bad.

Mother-love is a big part of most women’s lives, it should always be a part of the discussions of our lives; that it is so often reduced to something seen as self-absorbed and stupid tells us something about how anti-mothers we continue to be. To quote myself from the comments on a recent post:

” .. I think there is a gross tendency to lean towards seeing mothers as smug or full of themselves or preachy or whatever when we need to consider that mothering is one of our jobs and everyone tends to sound a bit full of themselves and a bit self-absorbed when they’re talking about their jobs and their work. I mean, take a workaholic and engage him in a conversation about how he does his job and you will hear the same..”

There’s still good reason for questions and analysis and opinion about these movements – any movement that influences women’s lives so profoundly deserves feminist review – but let’s not throw the baby (and its mama) out with the bath water.

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I have long loved Jeremy Adam Smith’s Daddy Dialectic site, it’s really still the best I’ve seen in feminist-leaning fatherhood blogs and he has assembled a great team of male writers over there although they’re not the most regular posters.

This is lovely over at Daddy Dialectic, you should go read the whole thing.

The other day I found myself exclaiming to my two daughters, sixteen and fourteen respectively, don’t have sex until you’re in your twenties, but here are some condoms.
I’m not sure if there is a better example of sending a mixed message.
I should explain.  The other night I discovered my oldest daughter had spent the night with her boyfriend.
Now, I have consistently brought up sex with them and with their older brother who now lives on his own with a gaggle of twenty something young men in West Oakland.  And I have consistently been rebuffed, scoffed at, silenced by their stares, punctuated with a rolling of the eyes or a sigh of exhaustion.
‘Dad, please…..’
But I don’t let it stop me.  I know I’m not someone they want to confide in, and I actually cringe thinking about it if they did.  But I want to approach the discussion of their bodies, their rights, sex in general differently than the terse warning I received from my father to keep my dick in my pants or the silence around the subject from my mother.
There is nothing wrong with sex; it’s powerful and beautiful and a profound ritual of entering adulthood…

… And parenting by denial is never a good approach to raising children.
However, even though I broach the subject any chance I get, we don’t actually talk as directly as I’d like.  And that’s why I know I need help, from other adults in our lives to examples of people or movements reclaiming the body, offering other ways to view sex, that might empower young women.
Sadly, there’s not a lot out there for them; besides a few adult women in their lives that they can turn to in need, there is almost nothing in mainstream society that speaks to young women about their growth and desires in sex positive, yet realistic and honest ways.
So I find myself saying things like, I don’t think you should have sex until you’re older; however, here are condoms
But now I also add every chance I get, and remember…
Please, remember…
…you can always stop, you can always say no, even after you’re in the car, in the room, out of your clothes, in the bed.
No means no.
Stop means stop.
In an attempt to provide those positive examples of body ownership and empowerment, I searched out zines about self–defense, about sexual abuse, about sex positive experiences, things written by other young women.
And then, I rediscovered Riot Grrrl.  The ferocity, the anger, the arrogance.

Coincidentally, I just stumbled upon this right now when I am in the middle of trying to finish a post of my own about how I want to approach my daughter’s emerging sexuality when she’s a teenager. This piece from Tomas Moniz was a beautiful, thought-provoking read.

Now, on an entirely different note, this also from one of the Daddy Dialectic writers, Jason Sperber, over at his personal blog – daddy in a strange land – is a quietly devastating post about a homeless father and his daughters that is also worth your attention.

He stayed astride his bike, proffering his driver’s license as proof of his identity. He had lost his job but couldn’t collect unemployment because of a dispute with his ex-employer. He and his two daughters were homeless, had been on the street, then in a shelter which they left after he became concerned with the attention being given his daughters by an adult male resident. Tonight was their fourth night in a motel, where a neighbor lady was watching the girls, paying by the day as he scrounged the money. He was hoping to make the last $17 doing any odd jobs in the neighborhood. He’d made some money scrubbing out buckets for a florist, but he’d do anything, for whatever one would be willing to give.

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