Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A quick plug: the best Christmas (or Hannukah, or birthday, or whatever) present I can think of.

Oxfam Unwrapped

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fal lal de ral

Today I was listening to Kate Rusby's "Cowsong", about a boy with a cow who dallies with a girl he meets by the roadside and ends up losing both cow and trousers. I got to thinking: there's a lot of this scenario in English folksong. Boy meets girl, suggestive dialogue, they have sex in some bit of countryside. In the sad songs she winds up pregnant and deserted, in the happy ones they agree to meet and do it again. In the funny ones one of them is tricked - ha, he lost his trousers! Ha, he won't marry her because he already has a wife!

Was there this much casual pastoral sex in England of one and two centuries ago?

Pastoral, probably yes. Buildings were smaller and more crowded then, and there were no backseats of cars. I personally would not want to be always finding barns and bushes to hide in, but people must have managed. Some songs do attest to the difficulty of locating a convenient place:

"He looked east and he looked west,
He looked north so did he south,
But he could not find a privy place
For a lay in the devil's mouth."

Some of them make it sound quite nice, though:

Then lie thee down, my beam,
I'll not spoil thy gaudy shining gear:
I'll make a bed of fern,
And I'll gently press my Jenny there.
Let me lift thy petticoat,
And thy kercher too that hides thy bosom:
Show thy naked beauty's store—
Jenny alone's the lass that I adore!

But I'm pretty sure this wasn't happening as often as the songs suggest. Queer sex was too unspeakable to even appear in the songs. Before birth control, surely it took a great deal of stupidity for women to have random sex with men by the side of the road. There wasn't formalized education about it, but people living around livestock probably understood from an early age how mammals get pregnant.

Certainly people were having extramarital sex, but I doubt it was so often unpremeditated. Maybe it was more often carefully planned adultery, like in this tragic ballad:

"I have loved you, fair lady, full long and many's the day."
"And I have loved you, Little Musgrave, and never a word did say."
"I've a bower in Bucklesfordbury, it's my heart's delight.
I'll take you back there with me if you'll lie in me arms tonight."

But maybe people liked songs about casual sex because they weren't realistic. People make this stuff up because they'd like it to be real, not because they think it is. And throughout time, it's been very popular. Said the organizer of a Robert Burns festival, "What could be closer to the tradition of modern gangsta rap music? Yes, it's sexist; yes, it's offensive; and yes, it's gratuitous — it's identical in almost every respect." We'll end with some of that esteemed poet:

The night was dark, and thro the park
I cou'dna but convoy her;
Sweet Betsey fell, fal lal de ral!
I am a Fornicator.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No forwarding address

It’s funny how many words there are for “dead.”

In a newspaper article, you may be a fatality. In another sort of newspaper article, you may be the late Mr. Walker. To your sister, you have passed away. To your pastor, you are the dearly departed. The post office prefers “deceased”.

Today at work I got a piece of returned mail with that word scrawled on it. Below was the post office’s sticker:



Thursday, November 20, 2008

The modern workday

I just started three months of temp work for Oxfam America, which is great so far. I love the cause, I love the people, I even love the commute. But when you get down to it, data entry is always going to be data entry. And I had forgotten that when I’ve been doing monotonous computer work for a while, I start humming.

I think the lack of modern work songs is a big problem. Our ancestors had songs for laundry, marching, hoeing, weaving, working on chain gangs, you name it. Our modern monotonous tasks don’t have songs, but I find I’ve got to have something to occupy my mind a bit while my hands are doing their own thing on the keyboard.

The best attempt at this, of course, is Stan Rogers’ (dated) “White Collar Holler”:

Well, I rise up every mornin' at a quarter to eight,
Some woman who's my wife tells me not to be late.
I kiss the kids goodbye, can't remember their names,
And week after week it's always the same.

And it's whoa boys, can you code it (huh!)
Program it right,
Nothin' ever happens in this life of mine,
I'm haulin up the data on the Xerox line.

And it's code in the data, give the keyboard a punch.
Then cross-correlate and break for some lunch.
Correlate, tabulate, process and screen,
Program, printout, regress to the mean.

So, at the risk of driving the person at the next desk crazy, what songs do we need? I’ve long wanted a photocopying song.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The green one

Scene: Election day. Julia is standing the required 150 feet away from her polling place with a sign reading "Yes on 4! Save the economy and the planet."

Security guard: Hey, what's question four?

Julia: It's asking the legislature to take subsidies away from industries that pollute a lot and give the subsidies to building green jobs instead.

Guard: That sounds good. All that green stuff. You know, I bought a truck the other week, and the guy at the lot says you can have it in two colors, the blue one or the green one. (With a wise smile.) And I says to him, I'll take the green one. It seems like things are going in that direction, you know?

Uh, sir? It doesn't actually work like that.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jobless but not idle

Two months of unemployment has made me insecure and scared. But on the up side, it does give me time to go looking through other people's trash for things like old blankets and then make them into clothes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been reading about the difference between "entertaining" (focused on impressing people with your house, your fancy food, etc.) and "hospitality (focused on other people, not yourself).

I'm finding this especially relevant to planning the wedding. The wedding industrial complex is extraordinarily good at getting people to spend lots of money on goofy stuff they don't need.

I keep trying to remind myself: in ten years none of these people will remember what kind of flowers I had on the table, or if there were flowers at all. They won't care what my colors were or whether the plates matched. (Although since this mania is marketed peculiarly towards women, I do know any displeasure my aunts feel about the arrangements will be directed at me and not Jeff). This is not about me showing off. It's about people enjoying themselves and each other, yes, but that shouldn't center on how the cake was decorated. It should be about hospitality.

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. Luke 14:12-14

I'm not sure about maimed or blind, but we are at least inviting a lot of college students . . .

Sunday, October 26, 2008


This week I got my first phone call for "Mrs. Kaufman". I warily told the voice on the other end that there was no one here by that name, and she said she actually wanted Jeffrey Kaufman. Of course! A woman answering the phone at Jeffrey Kaufman's house must be Mrs. Kaufman. Actually, the people living in the house are currently two Mr. Kaufmans, one Ms. Thomforde, one Ms. Wise, one Mr. Aderer, and sometimes two Ms. Kaufmans but definitely no Mrs. Kaufmans. The last person to bear that name was Jeff's grandmother, who is long dead.

I have doubts about adding another variable to this mishmash by keeping my name, but it seems simpler than making the transition to Julia Kaufman. Also, there would be something weird about being Mrs. Kaufman when Jeff's mother isn't. I don't feel strongly about it as a feminist issue - I'm keeping the name of my father and his father and his father, none of whom are people I particularly want to be named after. In fact, I originally wanted to change my name and Jeff was one of the people who talked me out of it.

I just wish he would stop answering the phone with "Thomforde, Kaufman, and Wise", which makes us sound like a law firm.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The other option was "the gravid uterus"

The fun thing about living with a midwife is that the reused paper in the printer has such interesting things on the back of it. Yesterday I turned over a draft of the wedding invitations to find a diagram of "THE NORMAL UTERUS" on the reverse. Probably we shouldn't send the final versions out like that.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Yesterday afternoon I suddenly went into Advent drive. Advent is the ecclesiastical season of preparing for Christmas, but for anyone who makes Advent calendars there's also a preparation for the preparation. Fourteen years after I told my mother I didn't believe in Jesus anymore, the cycle of the liturgical year is still pretty strongly in my system.

At some point I looked out the window and realized why I suddenly had the need to sketch out Advent calendars. It was a cloudy day, so at four in the afternoon it was dark outside. It's not really winter yet. I'm just like one of those birds that gets bamboozled into migrating at the wrong time by a shift in daylight. If scientists wanted to, they could probably trick me into starting in July by covering up my windows with dark sheets every afternoon.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Going retro

Lately I find myself using history to justify all kinds of things. "Well, historically it's totally normal to live with your in-laws. Most people around the world and through time have lived in much smaller spaces with more people." "There's nothing weird about a potluck wedding. Caterers have only been common for about a century."

The problem is that I've now reached the stage of wedding planning where I start thinking things like, "Why should we pay 26 cents per fork for 150 people? All those people own forks of their own. We could all just bring our own cutlery, like people used to do in the middle ages." No, Julia. No.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


When you and your beloved wake up in the middle of a rainy night to have that argument about the laundry - should one of us get up to check if it's already hopelessly wet? Who should get up? Should we bring it inside even though it's soaking? Why didn't we bring it in before we went to bed? Why did you wake me up so I could go out in the rain? Couldn't you have just gotten up and gotten the laundry yourself? Are we going to have any dry underwear in the morning? -

there's a kind of anthropological comfort in knowing people have been having exactly this argument on rainy nights all over the world as long as there has been laundry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've been thinking about sourdough,
a bubbling, acidic mess of airborne yeast
that we nurture into rich tangy loaves.
Gold prospectors trekked Alaska with bags of sourdough
in their shirts,
keeping the precious leavening alive with the heat of their bodies.

In fall I'll bring home a cup of starter,
and in our new house we'll have sourdough biscuits
and pain au levain.

Last night in your sleep you pulled me closer against you,
and my dreaming brain registered
as a baker
a bowl of sourdough
Clasped against your warmth,

Friday, August 08, 2008


This is still theoretical for some years yet. But, given that:

- the environment is being degraded by a growing human population, and giving birth to another human increases that trend

- I'm not so arrogant as to believe that a human Jeff and I raise will be superior to anybody else's child

- adopting healthy children from America is fairly difficult and expensive

- I'm terrified of being stuck at home for years with a child who isn't physically or developmentally able to be alone

- If we adopt a child from the third world, we're vastly multiplying the child's effect on the environment

- If we adopt a child from the third world, we're vastly improving the child's standard of living

- I give virtually all my income to international development

- If I'm raising children in the first world, a lot of my income will go to them, leaving a lot less to help people in the third world

Is it ethical for me/us to have children?

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Lately I've read a couple of novels set in 1930s Britain, both of which reference young women hired to do housework in other people's houses. I had always assumed "hired help" was something only the rich had, but I think I was wrong. I think that in the country before there were many jobs available for women, being someone's hired girl was a very normal step between childhood and adult life.

"My girl Polly - she's sixteen now and going out to service next autumn, for whatever people may say and whatever airs they may give themselves, I will maintain there's nothing like good service to train a girl up to be a good wife. It's not standing behind a counter all day selling ribbons and bathing-dresses (if they call them dresses, with no legs and no backs and next to no fronts neither) will teach you how to cook a floury potato."

- Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors

In a way, I've followed this pattern myself. I've spent my first year out of college doing work that won't look good on a resume, but that has taught me a lot of basic life skills. Years of my parents' griping didn't teach me to wash dishes as carefully as two months in someone else's house last summer. I finally learned how to fold shirts, and to actually want to fold shirts before I put them away. I was a good cook before, but now I'm a lot better - and I can do it for 150 people (not that that's a skill I plan to use a lot). I've seen how different families order their time and space - here they gather on the porch to play board games, there they eat ice cream on the sofa while someone practices piano.

In the fall Jeff and I will be living with his parents, where I expect nearly all of those skills to go to good use. It's been a year well-spent.

Next step: find a job that pays money.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Surreal moments

This morning as I lay reading in bed, a man and a woman paddled by in a canoe singing "The Merry Wanderer." In harmony. You know, the German one that ends

My knapsack on my back!"

Dear singing canoers,
You made my day. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


After watching a mob of snails trying to have sex, human sex seems so much more graceful by comparison.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I’ve been transcribing recipes out of my old battered notebook into a new book. I’m surprised at how difficult I’m finding it to get rid of the scraps of paper I had jammed into the pockets of my old cookbook. Even though I have my mother's recipe for chocolate haystacks or Anna's jam cake recipe, it's not the same copied out in my writing. I miss their exclamation points, their notes in the margins. "Lay out the waxed paper first! It sets up fast!" "I was drinking ginger tea when I made this, so the amount of ginger in this may be off."

In Pendle Hill's kitchen there’s a different kind of memory, more collective. I use old recipe cards handwritten years before I came here by people I’ve never met, whose names I don't know. But they walked the same tiles as I do, stirred with the same spoons, made soup in the same pots. Their instructions are meant for the same machines I use – “In the biggest bowl of the Hobart, mix . . .” “Bake 20 minutes in the convection ovens, 35 in the slow oven . . .”

When we're short, a retired woman who cooked here for years occasionally comes to help out. Right now she's in the kitchen making baked beans, peering at the card through her glasses. "Let's see what Fran has to say," she mutters.

I'm sad that we'll lose this. I'm in the process of typing and editing these recipes so there can finally be a Pendle Hill cookbook. But although the food itself will live on, the old grease-stained cards won't - readers won't look at these cards and recognize Fran's handwriting.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Helping us do right

I'm more and more impressed by Christians. I've been deeply suspicious of religion in general since leaving the church at age 11, but lately I've been noticing more and more of its good side. And living at a Quaker center, I've been noticing Christianity especially. I think it gives people some good tools for living well.

I was recently introduced to the idea of an "environmental sabbath day". Of course the most complete observers of the sabbath are Jews, but most of the sabbath observers I know are Christians. Spending a day at home or in the neighborhood, not driving, using less electricity (or none) - it would make a difference. In my current schedule of working six and a half days a week I'm realizing that a sabbath would be good for me as well as for the earth.

My (Episcopalian) friend Mary not only finished her taxes weeks before I did, but afterwards she tithed a percentage of her income from the past year. Glowing, she told me that she had become a member of Bread for the World and a few other charities.

Not many of us give the traditional Biblical tithe of 10%. Our national average is 3.1%. It's not that we can't afford to - poor Americans give the highest percentage of their income and assets. The most famous philanthropist in my hometown for a long time was an impoverished postal worker who would regularly give $1000 checks to people he thought were doing good work. "People say, 'How can you afford it?' Well, how can people afford new cars and boats? Instead of those, we deliberately kept our standard of living down below our means."

Some comparison: according to this calculator, my income of about $5,000 puts me in the world's richest 15%.

As far as anyone can tell, Americans sort of think they ought to give to charity but aren't very organized about it. What a good thing it would be if we all finished our taxes every year and immediately gave away a tenth of our income (or more, as these folks are doing). Putting off giving makes it less effective, considering that problems like AIDS, climate change, and environmental destruction are growing constantly. Head on over to Charity Navigator and see what's out there.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The lusty month of May

Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
- John Milton

Last night being May Eve, or the beginning of Beltane, I fell asleep thinking about the traditional activities thereof. Everything from Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon to Lerner and Loewe's Camelot paints the occasion as a time of giggling young people disappearing into the shrubs to have sex. I lay thinking about the irony of a fertility festival in a day of birth control and women's careers. Fertility is the last thing most of us want - women spend an average of four years of their childbearing years actually willing to bear children. For the rest, pregnancy spells social or economic disaster. We don't want sex to be about fertility.

"Wait," I realized, "Historically, I can't be alone in this. There must have been lots of people who didn't want to get pregnant, even on May Day. And before birth control, the way to avoid babies was to avoid sex. Failure to copulate on May Eve can't be that anachronistic."

It's not so simple, of course, because not all sex requires birth control. In college I read a brilliant article by Henry Abelove about the population increase in England around the time of the industrial revolution. He argues that the higher birthrate is not explainable by higher marriage rates or earlier age of marriage, but that "sexual intercourse so-called became importantly more popular in late eighteenth century England." Before that, he figures, people were more often having sex in ways that didn't make babies. He links the rise in production of goods to the rise in reproduction, suggesting that the emphasis on production in one's work life may have also carried through to one's sex life. Foreplay as such was invented at this point, he says. Just as rest time that used to be lengthier - the English apparently had a three-day weekend until industrialization, when it all got crammed into Sunday - acts that used to be sex in themselves became precursors to "real sex". It's a theory that no one can test now, but I loved the paper.

Sex of any kind on May Day itself seems less likely among those dedicated to early-morning revelry. Round about dawn I was in a field with forty other Morris dancers, singing "We'll end the day as we begun, we'll end it all in pleasure." I have grave doubts about the veracity of the song. My day, for example, began with the alarm going off at 4:25.
"Nnnng. Wake up."
"Jeff, get up. Up."
"Not time yet."
"It is. Get up."

Any further welcoming in the May will have to wait until we're better rested.

The month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.

- Sir Thomas Malory

Friday, April 25, 2008

Morris on!

There's something very comforting about coming back to things you did as a child, especially if you get to bring a new person with you. I spent my childhood weekends tagging along with my parents at Morris ales in a miniature version of their kit, then my teenage years dancing myself. At one point my immediate family composed about half the team.

I went to college in Philadelphia, a town with a regrettable lack of Morris teams that let women dance. Every year at Bryn Mawr's May Day celebration, the local men's team would perform. Their kids would wander around, wearing tiny bells on their ankles just like I used to do. Someday, I hoped, I could dance again? And have Morris babies with little bells on their ankles?

Months before I graduated, some lovely people decided to pull a team together for May Day. Oh the joy! The bells! The handkerchiefs!

Today twelve of us are on our way to the New England folk festival for two and a half days of music and dance. At the helm of the trip is Jeff, the boy I get to keep forever (and the other parent of any future Morris babies). He's untrained but certainly one of the more enthusiastic members of the team. There's something very right about doing Morris with him.

Yesterday I was pinning together my old hair ribbons for his vest, feeling a bit medieval. There's a wonderful passage in The Return of the Native about the lamentable effect of female improvements upon folk tradition, in this case mummers' plays:

The piece was the well-known play of Saint George, and all who were behind the scenes assisted in the preparations, including the women of each household. Without the co-operation of sisters and sweethearts the dresses were likely to be a failure; but on the other hand, this class of assistance was not without its drawbacks. The girls could never be brought to respect tradition in designing and decorating the armour; they insisted on attaching loops and bows of silk and velvet in any situation pleasing to their taste. . . .

It might be that Joe, who fought on the side of Christendom, had a sweetheart, and that Jim, who fought on the side of the Moslem, had one likewise. During the making of the costumes it would come to the knowledge of Joe's sweetheart that Jim's was putting brilliant silk scallops at the bottom of her lover's surcoat, in addition to the ribbons of the visor, the bars of which, being invariably formed of coloured strips about half an inch wide hanging before the face, were mostly of that material. Joe's sweetheart straight-way placed brilliant silk on the scallops of the hem in question, and, going a little further, added ribbon tufts to the shoulder pieces. Jim's, not to be outdone, would affix bows and rosettes everywhere. . . .

The guisers themselves, though inwardly regretting this confusion of persons, could not afford to offend those by whose assistance they so largely profited, and the innovations were allowed to stand.

Luckily Morris is supposed to look silly, so I can do no harm here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


If everyone lived like I do, we would need 3.1 planets to sustain us. There are a number of ecological footprint quizzes out there, but I think this one is quite well-done:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

A sweet eggy bread, sort of like challah. Don't skip the orange zest. I won second prize in the Ionia Free Fair in Michigan with this bread last summer.

1 cup warm milk (about 110 F)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons orange juice or concentrate
1 tablespoon (or one packet) yeast
about 5 cups white flour
4 eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon salt

In a big bowl, combine the milk, sugar, butter, orange juice, yeast, and one cup of the flour. This mix must be the right temperature - warm to the touch but not hot - or the yeast won't work! Let it sit in a warm place until it bubbles, about 20 minutes.

Separate one of the eggs and set aside the yolk. Stir the white and all the remaining ingredients into the dough. When it's too thick to stir, turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide in three pieces. Roll the pieces into long ropes and braid them. On a greased baking sheet, lay the braid into a circle or wreath shape. If you want, nestle dyed eggs into the wreath. Let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Mix the egg yolk with a little water or milk and brush it onto the bread. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the bread about 30 minutes.

Makes one large and beautiful loaf, suitable for feeding hungry Morris dancers who are staying at your house prior to the Easter parade.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The end of time

When I first read the lyrics to Ewan MacColl's "The First Time", I disliked them.

The first time ever I saw your face
I though the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon & stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark & the empty skies, my love
To the dark and empty skies.

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love
That was there at my command.

The first time ever I lay with you
And felt your heart beat over mine
I thought our joy would fill the earth
And last til the end of time, my love
And last til the end of time.

Knowing nothing of the story behind it, the words turned me off. "Sure, you thought your love would last forever, but of course it won't! Let alone sex. You probably got tired of her, if she didn't get tired of you first."

In college I discovered Peggy Seeger's album Songs of Love and Politics. Along with her own "I Want to Be an Engineer" and many other political songs, the most memorable love song is "The First Time", which Ewan wrote for her during a 1956 transatlantic phone call. They didn't get tired of each other - they were married for many decades. But she also sings the heartbreaking "Thoughts of Time", about being married to a much older man and living with the almost certain knowledge that Ewan would die before her.

These days I have marriage on the brain, and her story takes on more significance for me. The worst thing I can currently imagine is losing Jeff too early, though unless we both go in the same car wreck one of us has to die before the other. So this week when I found Peggy Seeger's most recent album Bring Me Home in the library, I was entranced by the last song. She describes the different people who have been home to her over the years - starting with her parents and brothers, then her life with Ewan, her life alone after his death. But the last verses are about her life with her new partner, Irene. I've never met any of these people, but I was happy all day after learning that! It felt like I had heard good news from a friend.

At Pendle Hill it's the end of term, students are leaving, and people are fond of quoting "The sorrow of your leaving lasts only a moment, because the joy of your being here lasts forever." I'm sure anyone who's lost a spouse will tell you the sorrow in fact lasts more than a moment. But at the same time, the world is a better place because Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl were in it. I hope at the end of our life together Jeff and I can know the same thing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Can we please get over this?

I'm more and more appalled by the monotony of the spam I get at my work email address. A thousand different euphemisms are employed to sell penis enlargement - usually the message is clearly about that. But even ones with subject lines about some other aspect of sex or relationships are inevitably about expanding your love stick. It's strange to see men so objectified, boiled down to one ridiculous measurement.

Someone with no concept of human sexuality would come away from my inbox with the idea that it was all penises, all the time. Nothing about tickling or tongues or words or fingers in each other's hair. Nothing about fun or kindness. Nothing about women, except as rapt admirers of penises. And as for the rest of human interaction, you would think it consisted of mocking men without huge zucchini between their legs. ("Zucchini" is actually a far gentler metaphor than the emails use. If I'm ever approached by an organ that could be described as a "cannon", "anaconda", "monster", or "power drill", I'll run the other way.)

The sad thing is that they wouldn't send so many of these messages if they didn't work. Fear sells.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Sometimes I forget how great is. This is a reminder to all of you: if you're looking for a job, or something to do, or any other way to improve the world - it's really great.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The bird in the tree on the rock in the void

This morning at breakfast people were talking about moon phases and tides and things. Afterwards I sat in meeting for worship trying to visualize it all. If the sun is here and the Earth is here, the full moon is out there on the other side, so the tide is pulled away from the sun . . . I looked out the window at the wet grass on the hill in front of the meeting room. In the tree next to the building a bird was singing.

Suddenly it seemed miraculous. We are on a globe of rock, flying around in space, orbiting a flaming globe and orbited by another globe of rock. And conditions on our rock are such that there is wet green grass on the hill and a bird singing in the tree. Because I usually don't think of myself as living on a rock flying through space, it's easy to forget how elegant it all is.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I'm amused and disturbed by the way new technology makes people unhappy when they don't get it. A few decades ago people got upset about technological intrusion when Pendle Hill put phone lines in the dorm rooms, but now people get all malcontent if they can't have free wireless. The other night some of us were sharing about how our days had been, and one man said meditatively, "I'm feeling really disconnected from . . ." I expected this sentence to end with "my family" or "the people around me" or some such thing. But no, it was "wireless internet in my room. There are so many things I feel I'm missing out on."

This morning my kitchen helper didn't show up to his job at all, and when I saw him at lunch I asked him what happened. "I'm so sorry," he said, "I slept in until eleven. I was up all night trying to get the wireless in my room to work." Tip: don't tell this to the woman who no longer has a computer of any kind and who got up before dawn to cook the breakfast you didn't eat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The song of harvest home

At first, working as a cook seemed like a scarier version of what I'd been doing for years. The pans and utensils seemed too big; recipes that started with 40 cloves of garlic or 20 pounds of tuna seemed ridiculous.

Now that I've settled into the proportions, I'm really enjoying it. It felt good to realize that I'd made the house recipe for granola so many times I could just go into the cool storeroom and start scooping out the grain: 10 quarts of oats, 3 of rye flakes, 2 of oat bran . . .

The Icelandic sagas feature women as secondary characters, but I remember being fascinated by the fact that "housewife" was treated as an important job. Back then running a household was indisputably a full-time occupation, partly because Icelanders lived in longhouses with dozens of people. (Think Riders of Rohan type dwelling.) Getting a household through the winter took major preparation and planning. In one saga, a house is thrown into turmoil because of the wife's bad management, and it looks like they may run out of food. A woman's position of honor was once synonymous with her role as a provider of food: our word "lady" is from Old English hlǣfdige, "loaf-kneader".

Well, my job isn't that important. But I do enjoy feeding a lot of people.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bad Quakers

Things you really shouldn't do during meeting for worship or moments of silence:

1) sleep
2) wink at people
3) bend over so far your hat falls off
4) make your grocery list
5) make small talk
6) crack your knuckles
7) kill ants
8) audibly clean your teeth
9) hit people

I've witnessed all of the above, though as far as I know I'm guilty only of 1 and 7.

Postscript, January 15: today I told a friend about this list, and she calmly answered, "Oh, we had someone die in meeting once."