Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This Month in Sewing

One of my New Year's resolutions involved improving my sewing skills. January is over--or will be in an hour and a half--and I haven't exactly improved, but when I added up what I'd sewn it was more than I thought I'd done. So here's the tally:

  • One self-drafted thread catcher, made of a home dec fabric I found at the thrift store. (I'm planning simple curtains and maybe a throw pillow or two with the rest, and sometimes along about the time pigs take flight painting my sewing room to coordinate with the fabric.) It's weighted with a tile, padded so it can take pins, has a velcroed on (so it's removable) pin cushion, and a shaped bag for threads and fabric trimmings. The bag, which I'd meant to shape around the end of two liter bottle, is too big--I have to learn not to sew in the middle of the night--but it is weighted so well it doesn't even move when I jostle the ironing board enough to make the iron fall over.
  • One self-drafted wrist band pin cushion. (Okay, this project was partly gluing.)
  • A new apron to replace my made-from-the-back-of-a-denim-shirt-one. It's from the same self-drafted butcher-style apron I've used twice before and is made from a really cool lightning print fabric I didn't want to resist buying. (Someday maybe I'll tell a funny story I have about lightning and AS & UP.) I left off the contrasting bias tape on this one and just turned the fabric under, so I wouldn't detract from the fabric. (The old apron is being relegated to yard work use.)
  • Two robes made from McCall's 6264; it's OOP, but it's a basic loose, kimono-ish, unisex robe. It's an easy, quick project; the notches on the band don't match up to the notches on the front of the robe, but construction is so easy it's not a problem. For the first robe, I shortened the pattern to make it knee-length and have short sleeves. I had to do that because I was using a single bed size sheet from the thrift store and trying to squeeze an XL robe out of it (I still had to make the tie out of something else), but it worked out great. The sheeting feels really good against my skin and it's cool enough for MS summer, and with the dropped shoulders on the robe, the sleeves turned out more like three-quarter length than short. For the second robe, I used some really nice dark green flannel from Wal-Mart's dollar-a-yard table, and the result is a big, cozy robe for winter in a color I love and that looks good on a redhead. When you consider I can seldom find robes I like in stores, these projects were money and time well spent.

Here's to doing better next month.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Two Mary Frances Books

The Mary Frances Sewing Book (1913) and The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book (1918)

Last year I read that an old book intended to teach sewing to little girls, The Mary Frances Sewing Book, had generated buzz among doll fanciers. Although it's in the public domain and has been re-released by a couple of publishers, it remains hard to find; the article or post I first read about it in said original copies could fetch nice prices on Ebay, and I found that secondhand copies of the recent paperback editions were priced higher than one might expect. The reason for the popularity is not just that it's a charming book, prettily illustrated and full of nostalgic appeal, but that it does a good job of teaching handsewing skills most contemporary women have never learned and provides a set of patterns for an authentic 1913 doll wardrobe. Some part of my mind remains in the 19th to pre-WWI 20th century (maybe I read too much Alcott as a girl) so of course I was interested.

Several weeks ago a new copy, shrinkwrapped with patterns turned up for under $20 on one of Amazon's affiliated sellers. So I had to get it. Although why I had to order the readily available The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book (there were several Mary Frances how-to books written) to go with it I'm not sure; I'm turning into quite the spendthrift lately. My books are paperback, but you can buy hardcover, "heirloom editions" at http://lacis.com/catalog/mfvict.html ; it might be worth it for the sewing book, especially if you want a gift for a special little girl, but I can't imagine the other books are worth bothering with hardcover.

The sewing book begins by teaching various hand stitches. What I thought was clever here was that the book has the reader learn to do these on canvas (Aida cloth, the stuff cross-stitchers use) instead of normal fabric, so it's easy to see how wide or deep to make the stitches and to keep them even; I used a piece of size 14 Aida cloth because that's what I had, but size 11 would work better. I wanted to see how good the book was for learning, so I worked through the stitches using the directions in the book. All were fine, until I got to the blanket and buttonhole stitch. I already knew how to make a blanket stitch (although it'd been nearly a decade since I'd used it), but I had trouble following the directions until I decided to ignore them and followed the illustration instead. The buttonhole stitch directions were impossible. The illustration wasn't helpful either. I finally gave up and just made tiny blanket stitches the way I already knew. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who had trouble with this. I tried looking up the buttonhole hand stitch online to see if I was offbase in my understanding of it, and I found a website that blatantly plagiarized the stitch lessons from Mary Frances--except for the blanket and buttonhole stitch directions, which were rewritten.

After the basic stitches, the book moves on to making a doll's wardrobe. These projects I have not worked through, but they seem pretty good. The clothes are cute and presumably authentic to the Edwardian or Titanic era, as they come from then. Anyone new to sewing could learn a lot of dressmaking skills here. While the "Thimble people" are walking Mary Frances through the projects, they teach things like seam finishing and plackets. Unless I overlooked something, all the sleeves are cut on, so there's nothing about setting a sleeve, but that's the only thing I could think of that I might like to have seen covered that wasn't. The lessons seem to be pretty well laid out, so that easier things are presented first.

The patterns are sized for a sixteen-inch doll of that time period. There are at least two different Mary Marie (the doll's name in the book) "reproduction" dolls for sale, and the lacis site I linked above sells a pattern for making a cloth doll that will fit the clothes. These would be worth looking into if you want to give the book to a little girl interested in sewing. Otherwise you could just size the patterns up to fit the very popular 18-inch dolls of today. The size is already close. I recently bought a pattern for 18-inch doll clothes (I'm definitely becoming a spendthrift) and laying the contemporary pattern pieces over the Mary Frances pieces suggested they might need a bit less grading up than I'd thought.

There are also a few non-doll projects.

Typically for children's books of the time, there are some moral lessons woven in. One of these I found kind of catchy: "Miss Never-Try/Never can do;/Miss Never-Begin/Never gets thru." Also like a lot of period children's books, the characters may seem too good and nice to be true and to speak in a slightly stilted way at times. It didn't interfere with my enjoyment (much less the educational parts), but some might find it more distasteful; I didn't "buy" the level of goodness and niceness any more than many would, it just didn't bother me. A potentially fruitful topic of discussion with friends or a discussion group would be why modern people find depictions of the very good and nice to be distasteful.

The rhyming and some corniness might get on some adults' nerves. Children might have to look up a few words or find some obvious-by-context word uses odd. That never hurt anybody, though. I had to look up the definition of "guimpe" (a blouse worn under jumpers) myself and survived the trip to the dictionary with dignity intact.

Verdict: I recommend The Mary Frances Sewing Book for adults or children. It is to be hoped someone will put out a new reprint. If they're really smart, they'll package it with a 16-inch doll pattern or offer a separate pack of patterns already resized so little girls can sew for their American Girl or other 18-inch dolls.

The knitting and crocheting book is a bit different from the sewing book. Starting with the cover illustration. Uncle Pookie saw it and said he thought he might have been watching too much anime, because Mary Frances looked kind of hot! I would have said she looked like a young woman, instead of the little girl I assumed her to be and that she clearly is in the sewing book illustrations; maybe she's supposed to have aged since the previous book, but she's still playing with her dolls so I don't know.

I've worked through some of the early crochet directions--the stitches, a couple of scarves, and a petticoat. I found the directions really easy to follow, and there's no doubt a person could learn to crochet from them. The projects look okay and can be made to fit a contemporary 18-inch doll. On my petticoat--which looks better than I expected (to be frank, I'm not a huge fan of crochet and am a bit bewildered as to why I'm bothering with it)--I added six stitches to the base chain to make it fit an 18-inch doll better, but it could have worked as is; I'm guessing most would work as is. I probably won't bother with any of the other projects, except for the cute little "turban" (it looks more fez-ish to me) and even cuter tam.

I don't know how to knit with needles and am not ready to learn, so I can't vouch for the quality of the knitting directions. They seem okay to me. The book teaches English knitting, although there's a brief bit on Continental knitting in the supplementary material ("The Magic Paper") included in the back. It seems like pretty basic stuff, which is a good thing for beginners, especially if they're children.

Now the bad stuff. The Mary Frances Knitting and Crochet Book just isn't as appealing as the sewing book. It relies on photographs, and reproduced photographs just didn't look very good back then. (I'm guessing the photos made the original book a bit pricey.) The projects may seem a bit weird-looking to modern eyes; the clothes in the sewing book don't seem odd, perhaps because many mothers today like to dress their little girls in somewhat old-fashioned dresses for special occasions, old styles remain popular on dolls, and Titanic-era styles are somewhat in favor since the big Titanic movie in the late '90s. The story's still cute enough, but a bit less engaging.

Crochet hooks (and probably knitting needles too?) were sized differently back then, but there is a gauge given near the front of the book so you can approximate what you need; children might find it frustrating to have to do this, though. A more annoying problem is that the names of yarns have changed. "Knitting worsted" is easy, as is "Angora wool". "Teazle", which the book says is used for trims or, brushed up, as a substitute for angora, could be figured out. The problems are with the yarns used most frequently in the projects. "Germantown Zephyr" I'm guessing is just a softer worsted weight. "Saxony Wool" seems to be baby yarns. "Woolen knitting floss" has me stumped. I thought it might refer to something like the thicker crochet thread, but I substituted baby yarn for it with good results, so I don't know. I found a yarn site online that addressed this question and the author, though seeming extremely knowledgeable, wasn't sure either.

Be warned the knitting and crocheting book has a project that doesn't mesh with modern sensibilities. Mary Frances makes a baby yarn doll out of white string and then gets the idea to make it a nurse doll out of, you guessed it, black yarn or string. There's nothing inherently undignified or degrading about working as a nurse-maid and it is a simple historical fact that a lot of black women in the US did work as childminders for white families, but something about a doll made of very black yarn caring for a white baby doll doesn't sit well with us, even if the doll isn't as garishly stereotypical as some nurse figures I've seen. The black doll is described as "funny" and fortunately that's as far as any racist comments go. She is also given the stereotypical name of Dinah, but I've always assumed that name is often used for black female characters for the simple reason that Dinah was a common name; at least it's not called a "Mammy" doll. (Another interesting topic for discussion groups would be why we find the Mammy figure so offensive.) It's a very small part of the book, but I wasn't expecting it and it was off-putting.

Let's see, what else? Pacifists might find the inclusion of patterns for soldiers (the book was written during WWI) offensive. The self-esteem brigade might be offended by the idea, expressed in the introduction, that knitting for soldiers and parents "makes a person feel of very much account". Atheistic materialists and the kind of Christians who think The Wizard of Oz is satanic will probably be offended by the inclusion of fairies in the book. And I suppose really hardcore vegans might be offended by the very mention of bone needles. Not fitting into any of these categories myself, I'm okay with these things.

I don't recommend the book though. Some adults might find it interesting historically and the directions are fine, but there are better books out there for learning to knit or crochet. I'm afraid children might be turned off the subject by the old-fashioned pictures and find the difference in old terminology and new to be too frustrating.

I'd be interested in comments about others' experience with these books.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Sign of the Princess

My husband enjoys military science fiction generally and for some years now has been devouring John Ringo books. Almost literally. The typical scenario is he buys a copy of whatever is Ringo's latest at the bookstore and stays up all night to read it, work the next day be damned. I've been meaning to try some of Ringo's books for some time, especially since I heard the man read from the first of the dragon series before it came out. But somehow I just haven't gotten around to it. (Maybe partly because I just couldn't get into another military sf series Uncle Pookie is fond of, the Honor Herrington series by David Weber; UP says I'd probably enjoy the political wrangling HH books more than the strictly fighting ones.) Until now.

I just read Princess of Wands, a modern fantasy by Ringo. And I enjoyed it. Unusually for any 20th-century or later novel, the heroine is a Christian (Episcopalian) and, perhaps unusually for any novel, her Christianity makes a difference in how she lives her daily life. Also unusually, the heroine is living in Mississippi and the Mississippi (Louisiana too, although to a lesser extent the action there being what it is) we see seems like part of the modern world. Very unusually in fiction, we see a man, probably an immigrant, of Indian extraction in Mississippi; it sounds like a small thing to mention, but I've noticed movies and such set in Mississippi never show the Hindu hotel owners, Chinese restauranteurs, Vietnamese fishermen, etc. that are a part of contemporary Mississippi life.

The premise of the story is this: The government of the US (like many other governments) has a special, non-official branch of the FBI called Special Circumstances that deals with cases with supernatural components. SC operatives have power based on the purity and intensity of their religious faith, and the deity of the faith in question has power based on the number of believers. (Okay, so none of that is very original, but it's still a good story.) Obviously, in America a Christian operative has the potential to be really powerful, but for one reason or another, not many Christians are drawn to this work.

Our heroine, whose name makes me wonder if Ringo browsed some Mississippi phone books, comes onto the scene as a seemingly typical soccer mom, albeit one whose father had been a paranoid, military type who'd insisted his daughters learn a lot of survival skills. And one who happens to have a very strong faith. Someone who thinks Christianity has to do with how you respond to seemingly trivial daily events like someone cutting you off in traffic, not just with whether you show up to church on Sunday morning, and tries to live by her understanding. Long story short, she's drawn to southern Lousiana, kicks some demon and acolyte ass, and is recruited to Special Circumstances, and in the next two parts of the book (it's more like two novellas and a short story than one unified novel), has some more adventures. She encounters some anti-Christian prejudice along the way too; and that's refreshing because so often the fictional picture is one of bigoted Christians stereotyping pagans and secularists, when anti-Christian attitudes are so prevalent inour society they can shut down all of a person's much-touted openness the moment the word Christian hits his eardrum.

A big chunk of the book takes place at a con and that's fun. It's always nice seeing portrayals of cons by someone who's actually been to one and sees fandom as no less valid a way of spending your time than golfing. One of the author characters, Folsom Duncan, seems like a loose self-portrait--other author characters also seem to stand for real people, sort of like the regular characters in Asimov's mystery stories--and it's kind of amusing to speculate about how loose a portrayal it may be.

Yet another item in the plus column is the depiction of Asatruar. It's said that there are a good many--and increasing--number of Asatru in Special Circumstances and one of the major characters is an Asatru woman. I like that. Asatru are a small percentage of the neo-pagan movement, but I tend to think it's unfortunate they're so small a part. Reconstructionist pagan groups are more rigorous generally, and I just plain like Asatru. Although a lot of Asatruar, individually, can act like jerks (them and every other group!) and there is, regrettably, some overlap with racists, I find there is much to be commended there. Asatru people tend to be much more scholarly and intellectually honest, more serious about their religion, and more down-to-earth than Wiccans or neo-pagans generally. (I'm generalizing here, so no complaining about the scholarly eclectic neo-pagan you know.) Asatru people are much more likely to reject moral relativism than Wiccans. They also have fairly satisfying religous practices and, of course, all those great stories about the Northern gods. I almost became Asatru. Although I know I made the right decision and believe wholeheartedly that the Church has the fullness of truth, I have a bit of a soft spot for Asatru and Norse mythology. I liked seeing a positive depiction of it when so many people don't even know what it is and some of those pagans who do know about it have a kneejerk reaction that it must be bad because it's Germanic and more masculine in tone than Wicca.

Anyway, my Asatru aside aside, Princess of Wands was fun to read. Books and movies that have a demon show up usually seem a little cheesy to me--at least in the demon fighting scene--but there's plenty of things here to enjoy, and the fight scenes themselves aren't bad. I'll probably be looking at other of Ringo's books.

Separate and Very Unequal

John J. Miller has an article up at WSJ.com calling for the elimination of something I've always thought was a bad historical error, Indian reservations. The creation of Indian reservations effectively ended the chance for Indians to become full and equal citizens of the United states. Shoving them on reservations not only treated them as lesser people who could be stowed wherever the rest of the populace found them less inconvenient, but it prevented them from becoming participating members of society. It prevented assimilation. You can say maybe they didn't want to assimilate, but I think that should have been left up to the individuals to decide; Irish, Italian, and other immigrant groups got the chance to decide how far they wished to assimilate into the dominant US culture, why not the indigenous American Indians? Instead, it was determined that their future would be decided by government fiat and that their future would be one where they had, not even second-class citizenship, but a kind of non-citizenship thrust upon them. They count for nothing in American political life; they aren't even counted in voting statistics, last I heard. They have been kept separate from the rest of the country and hampered at every turn from pursuing the American dreams of self-determination, owning your own home, and making a better life for your children. It's a national shame, and it's one that is fueled by racism--the obvious, "hard" racism of the past and the "softer" racism of recent times that says Indians are different, their noble traditions won't permit them to function as citizens of a modern society, and what's more they don't want to do so, so we help them when we keep them separate. I think all people, Indian or non-Indian, can do without that kind of "help".

I guess some might defend the creation of reservations on the grounds some Indians fought the U.S. government and white settlers in their areas. Yes, some American Indians did that but so what? The Confederates rebelled against the whole United States, declared themselves a separate entity, and fought a full scale, bloody war against the US. They were accepted back into the Union and, after a relatively short time of transition, they were once again able to count themselves full citizens. Their descendants are free to do all the things any other American can do. It's long past time Indians were accepted into the national life of American.

I confess I have absolutely no idea how the reservation system could be ended, though. I wonder if Mr. Miller does. All I can imagine is a big old mess.

Oh, and do note I say American Indian, not "Native American". That latter term is the biggest load of bull I have ever heard. I am a native American--white skin, green eyes, freckled face, and all. I had ancestors here when there were just American Indians and various colonists, and every one of my ancestors who was born here was a native American. Until every English speaker develops the miraculous ability to speak in initial capitals so that "native American" is distinguishable from "Native American", I'm going to continue to say this is the stupidest bit of PC nonsense I've ever heard and I'm going to continue to say Indian (or tribal name, such as Choctaw, or individual name, such as Frank or Edna, depending on circumstances.) According to George Carlin, the term "Native American" was the invention of a federal government bureacrat anyway, and that's enough reason to look askance at the term right there, before you move on to considering the fact it's asinine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

If I'd Known It Was Coming...

Yesterday was National Pie Day. If I'd only known, I could have celebrated by making a cake or something.

Here Comes Everybody

James Joyce once said that the unofficial motto of the Catholic church is "Here Comes Everybody". I got a personal sense of that before I ever became Catholic. I was already going to mass fairly often and one time I arrived almost late, so that I had to sit at the front and to the side (this was a church with three-sided seating, which I don't approve of, but that's another rant) so I had a good view of people as they left the communion line. As I watched them, I found myself thinking of Joyce's line. "Here Comes Everybody." It really is everybody. Everyone is invited. Young and old, able-bodied and infirm, light-skinned and dark-skinned, male and female, fat and thin, neat and slobby, short and tall, athletic and flabby, well-off and poor, the thoughtful-looking and the slack-jawed, the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful. That particular day I saw a woman who looked like a slightly furtive pekingese. Whatever the attitude of the world in general, in the Church that woman is no less welcome than the most stunning of classical beauties. The Church displays the greatest mystery of her faith openly on her altars every day and invites everyone to see and to join--the poor and lowly no less than the rich and influential, the murderer just beginning to repent no less than the most upstanding citizen imaginable.

There is something of the same thing in the Catholic attitude toward abortion, eugenics, euthanasia--in fact toward human life in general. It is a sort of profligate love, saying, "Anyone God wants to let live, we want to welcome to life's banquet."

There are a lot of people in the world who are eager to say that this or that group of humans is worthless, but there don't seem to be so many saying everyone is valuable and still fewer saying everyone is welcome here. Considering some of the problems that can come--and sadly have come--from the first attitude, I figure there are a lot worse ways to look at life than the welcoming, hospitable one.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Marriage Gap--Separate and Unequal Families

This article on the "marriage gap" by Kay S. Hymowitz is a must-read. In fact, I recommend reading it, bookmarking the site, and reading it again later.

I only wish more people--especially parents and church leaders--would talk about the economic and social benefits of marriage to young people. Maybe if young women who are buying into the "I don't need a husband and children don't need fathers" line were confronted with the fact that not being married to their children's father greatly increases the chance their children will be poor--with all the disadvantages that entails--they will rethink their position. Just saying, "Don't do it!", probably won't help (although it's better than nothing), but encouraging them to think reasonably about the future before acting might, because every woman, however young, wants her children (already here or potential) to have a good life.

Why Gen-Xers Can't Win

People have a tendency to hang onto the hair and clothing styles that were popular when they were young. This means that when the Baby-Boomers have finally died off, so we don't have to hear about them any more, and Gen-Xers are finally king of the playground, the people who are now eighteen or so will join us in our nursing homes--and many of them will be sporting low-rise pants that give us a highlighted view of sixty five-year old butt cracks, saggy bellies, and wrinkly tattoos. And we poor Gen-Xers can't even depend on poor eyesight to obscure it; the pace of technology may have given us all 20/20 vision by then.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Margaret Sanger

When I was a child I liked finding female heroes. One was Margaret Sanger. I read about her and I saw a TV movie about her starring Bonnie Franklin; by the time I was in junior high school I "knew" Sanger was a great female hero who had rescued women from drudgery and, in many cases, saved their lives. A little later into my teens, I discovered that Sanger and a lot of the other early birth control advocates were eugenicists. That made me uneasy, but I told myself that it was okay, really, that eugenics was such a popular thing at the time that even nice, intelligent people could be excused for falling prey to it.

I've long since stopped making excuses for Sanger. More recently (the past four years or so) I've started wondering if she and others like her really did women many favors.

Here's some sites with more information:

A column by Mike Adams.



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Something Else

Related to that last post--specifically to Mark Steyn's talk about modern Westerners' lack of confidence in our civilization and the Morse columnist's pointing out that Islamists believe in themselves enough to replace themselves--is this quote from Thomas Sowell:

"No society can survive in the long run without the allegiance of its people. Undermining a sense of the worthiness of a society undermines that allegiance -- and, without allegiance, there is no defense." (Thomas Sowell)

This is true. For the obvious reasons that people who continually downgrade everything their civilization has produced and stands for are unlikely to support it against attack, intellectual or otherwise, or to build it up by continuing and strengthening its traditions and accomplishments. But perhaps also they may be less likely to want to reproduce--if they sincerely believe their civilization is worthless, that is.

Don't get me wrong, I think selfishness and a desire to overplan and overcontrol every aspect our lives is behind most of the childlessness in our society (I say this as a childless woman), but I can see how thinking your whole civilization is without redeeming features could make you reluctant to reproduce. Animals caged in zoos often don't want to reproduce, even though you'd think, if nothing else, they'd welcome the change in routine that a spot of reproductive fun could bring; it may just be my fruitcakey side speaking, but I've always thought it might be because they sense they are not free animals and aren't really content with that that they are able to override the second or third most powerful urge any of us have. Why should a human that views its society and heritage as worthless be any different from the zoo animal that finds little to live for in its environment?

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's All About Sex and Babies

Mark Steyn had a longish, must-read article called "It's the Demography, Stupid" at WSJ.com a few days ago. None of it was new to me, but it was still well worth reading. It starts off frightening:

"Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries."

And it doesn't get any less so as it goes on, so if you like to be frightened, you can pop a bowl of popcorn and sit back to listen to someone read this aloud instead of watching yet another tedious slasher movie.

Some points Steyn makes: Islamism is not metaphorical HIV, but the pneumonia that endangers the patient who already has HIV; our demographic crisis "ought to be the left's issue" because "[w]ho, after all, are going to be the first victims of the West's collapsed birthrates?"; and "A society that has no children has no future."

Today's Townhall has an answer to Mark Steyn, "It's the Sex, Stupid" , from Jennifer Roback Morse--not a disagreeing answer, but an elaborating answer. Morse says, "The modern view of sex [sex as a consumer product] has created the demographic collapse of the West, and the human void into which Islamic fertility is rapidly flooding." And she tells us who can help most to preserve the West:

"What women do and want will be decisive in determining whether the West survives the demographic clash with Islam....stay at home moms, don’t let anyone tell you that you are wasting your talents. Without your contribution of a healthy, functioning next generation, all the strength of the U.S. military won’t be enough to protect us from the primal force of Islam that believes in itself enough to replace itself."

These things need to be said and heard. I hope more columnists respond to Steyn's essay.


On New Year's a lot of people, especially female people, make New Year's resolutions whose aim are to make them look better--lose weight, exercise more, get pedicures more often, whatever. All perfectly okay, but this aim might be better furthered by asking ourselves--and asking it frequently--"What kind of face am I creating?" I'll explain. Every once in a while, I'll see a middle-aged woman in a store or somewhere whom I can tell right off is a real bitch. Her features are set into a mean expression. Not because she's feeling out of sorts right then, but because she's had a mean, angry look on her face so often for so many years that it has settled into that expression permanently. It is not a good look. No little girl ever said, "I hope I grow up to have the kind of expression that makes store clerks walk in the other direction to avoid me, DMV employees decide it's time for their break, and complete strangers pity my children." When I see women who look like that, I wonder what kind of expression I'm building, what kind of lines I'm etching onto my face. If we take charge of ourselves now, maybe our lines will convey past laughter, smiles, and thoughtfulness instead of hatred; even past sadness looks better on the face than that. Trying to be better-tempered people will do more for our future looks than any number of resolutions to use moisturizer every day.


In a way Epiphany is kind of sad for me. Not only do the Christmas decorations go, but the Christmas carols do too. It's no secret that the music in contemporary American Catholic churches is not very good, but for the couple of weeks of Christmas we get to sing the fine old Christmas carols and they are great. Everybody knows the words too--to the first verse, anyway, but we know the tunes so well we can fake it on the next verses.


The people who wrote "Joy to the World" were all having a really good day.


When I was a child I was fond of the carol "We Three Kings". Trying to figure out why last night, I think I've pinpointed it: I didn't realize the "are" in the first line was a verb, but thought that it was part of a place name--Orient-Ar, as in "We three kings of Orient-Ar..." Who wouldn't like a song that brings us visitors from such an exotic, mysterious-sounding place as Orient-Ar?


On EWTN's Journey Home, the host said he heard the old Alaskan highway had a sign that said "Choose your rut carefully." That is excellent advice, although not expressed in as upbeat a way as you might see on a motivational poster.


How many of us stop to think what a luxury it is that we can worry about whether our full-fat yogurt is giving us high cholesterol that will give us heart disease in thirty or forty years and whether our low-fat, artificially sweetened yogurt will give us cancer in thirty or forty years? Before the middle of the twentieth century, people worried about more immediate threats. Will there be enough to eat this winter? Will any of my family get influenza and die? Will I die in childbirth? What will happen if our son falls off that horse and breaks his legs? What if my husband is killed in the war? What will happen to my wife if the invading army makes it all the way into our town? What if the cattle get diseases? What if the well runs dry? Compared to worrying about starvation or accident and illness in an age of no antibiotics, having time to worry about whether the lining of our non-stick pans will make us ill several decades from now is pretty sweet. (This is not to say there aren't some things genuinely worth worrying about.)


I am sorry for the people of New Orleans (as well as people imediately south and north of NO), but maybe the media should be reminded that it was Mississippi that was actually hit by Hurricane Katrina, not the city of New Orleans.


Heard around the ---------- household recently:
From Auntie Suzanne, getting dressed: "I think all that eggnog and stuff I've been eating has made me retain fat."

From Auntie Suzanne's sister: "People can say what they like about Mississippi, but we give our dogs and cats better medical care than people get here [a hospital in Los Angeles]."

From Uncle Pookie--and be warned this isn't clean--"Is a prostitute who specializes in anal sex a crack whore?"

From Auntie Suzanne: "If it weren't for the lyrics, this would be a nice song." Yeah, and if things were completely different, they wouldn't be the same.


I'm ambivalent about Chris Rock, but some of his comments about marriage are wise: "You're either married and bored or single and lonely" and "If you're married you want to kill your spouse; if you're single, you want to kill yourself." The latter even turns into an endorsement of marriage because, as he says, "better her than me."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

More Crunchy Talk

More clearing up things I meant to post before now.

Rod Dreher, probably as a sort of lead-up to his forthcoming book, recently had a piece in the Times on crunchy conservatisim. It was mostly about crunchy conservatives' reactions to our consumeristic, materialistic society. Here's a quote:

"A society built on consumerism will break down eventually for the same reason socialism did: because even though it is infinitely better than socialism at meeting our physical needs, it also treats human beings as mere materialists.

It cannot, over time, serve the deepest needs of the human person for stability, spiritual idealism and authentic community. We should not be surprised that all our freedoms have led to a society in which too many people see, as the London stage play had it, "shopping and f******" as the highest ideal to which we should aspire. "

Although I use the term myself, I actually tend to agree with Jonah Goldberg that the attitudes Dreher attributes to crunchy-granola conservatism are really just conservative. I wrote about this before but couldn't find Jonah's piece to link to. Here it is and a quote:

"...if you read closely, about 90 percent of the attitudes [Dreher] attributed to crunchy cons point to their hostility toward the Republican party, not with conservatism.... "Republican" and "conservative" are not now and never have been particularly synonymous. Conservatives have always had an uneasy relationship with the Republican party."

The Way Things Should Be--Two Examples

Clearing away some stuff from last year, here's a couple of things I meant to post earlier.


When Uncle Pookie and I went to Christmas Day mass at the church we used to attend before we moved here, I spotted a new piece of art in the entrance hall. It was composed of a number of wooden boxes arranged in a cross shape. Inside each box there were beads (and possibly some of those pins with beads on the end) artfully arranged with some of those wonderful Madonna and Child postage stamps the United States Postal Service used to publish every year until 2005, when they decided "holiday cookies" were a superior alternative. It had a folk art feel and yet was modern too. I liked it. *

I think this was part of "the way things should be", because churches should have contemporary art pieces as well as old pieces. Also because not all pieces have to have the same traditional look to be acceptable. Indeed sometimes the traditional look isn't always best--here I mean not the high art of Michelangelo's Pieta, but the lower end stuff. I'm fortunate to attend a church that, although recently built, has a lot of statues, stained glass, and pictures. But one of the statues of Mary is, even if it fits into traditional Catholic statuary genre, just ghastly; it makes me think of old store mannequins and eyeshadow, so however traditional it is it doesn't work as well as the other statues. (I still light candles in front of it, though; it's still a reminder of what it represents even if a less effective one than the other lovely statues of Mary.) We need more people of all skill levels and styles creating religious art. The society in general, not just churches or homes lucky enough to house these works, will be the richer for it.

*(I wouldn't be an American Catholic if I weren't complaining about something so let me say I noted with ambivalence they'd also added a statue of the Risen Christ in front of the weird Crucifixion painting--it now looks like the Risen Christ on the Cross, which is even weirder--and with displeasure that they still haven't put the tabernacle in the central location tabernacles ought to have; I had only good experiences there, but this church was undeniably designed back when a lot of Catholics had low self-esteem about being Catholic and wanted their buildings to look anything but.)


Back in, I guess, October, I was at a restaurant out of town with U.P. and a friend. While we were eating a woman from a table behind me got up to leave. She was wearing a loosely-fitted or semi-fitted black jacket and matching skirt that came down much longer than are usually worn with suits, but is a length I like to wear, and she had long wavy hair worn up. She was also free of make-up. I was admiring her appearance when her teenage daughter came into my view too. The daughter had really long curly hair and wore a long-sleeved tee-shirt and a long denim skirt of a type I'd seen several young women wear right around that time. And suddenly I guessed what I hadn't when I saw the mother: these women were dressed like that out of religious convictions about modesty. I was seated by a window so I looked around to the parking lot. I saw a minivan with a front plate advertising a Pentecostal church on it and, sure enough, this family (there was also a man and a small boy) got in it.

Why I think this is part of the way things should be: They were dressed modestly but not making a big deal of it. A while back I developed an interest in modesty in dress (caused by several years of having to look at girls' butt cracks, bellies, and boobs when all I wanted to do was buy some eggs or wait in line to see a movie) and looked at a number of web pages about same. I admire the intentions behind all of these women, religious (Christian and Jewish) and secular alike, but some of the Christian women seemed to think modesty was best served by adopting a mode of dress that looks costumey and yells, "Hey, I'm being modest over here!" I am not so sure about that approach. I like costumes and am very far from being averse to unconventional dressing, but it could be argued that calling attention to your modesty isn't the most modest thing possible and it is certain that choosing unflattering, costumey looks isn't going to win many converts to modest dressing. The mother and daughter I saw in the restaurant were different. They looked attractive and stylish--teenage stylish in the daughter's case, a more adult style in the mother's--and anyone might look at them and not realize they were dressed that way out of conviction.

I only guessed when I saw both of them together and even then it was only because I grew up in an area where there were a number of Holiness people. (Holiness is related to Pentecostalism but I'm not sure how exactly.) Female Holiness practitioners could always be recognized by this "look" they had: they always wore dresses or skirts, always had long hair (back then the middle-aged white ones piled it high on their heads, like an attempt to emulate the already-obsolete beehives of their more worldly contemporaries), and never wore makeup or nail polish. Beyond that, I can't describe it. None of them ever looked as nice as the mother and daughter I was talking about, though.

But this is the way modest clothing should be--attractive and not yelling, "Look at me!"