Monday, December 28, 2009

Truth in advertising

On Christmas day I walked past a liquor store that was shuttered. Its sign read:

After all the other things alcohol is sold as - sex, youth, refinement, camaraderie, fun - it was refreshing to see that all stripped away.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My favorite Christmas idea

You pick a gift. Your friend gets a card. Someone in need gets what they need.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The wrong song

In a week when I'm scheduled within an inch of my life, Peggy Seeger's "Lady, What Do You Do All Day?" was the wrong choice of train listening this morning.

On my way home I shop for the supper
And then have a tidy around
Billy comes in, sits down with the paper,
says "Girl, don't you ever sit down?"
Men of the world, would you think it was strange,
Think it was right, think it was funny
To slog every night at a job for free
After slogging all day for your money?

To be fair, Jeff works more hours than I do, and he did the last grocery run and the last cooking.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Banana bread pudding with caramel sauce

My new favorite thing.

Caramel sauce
Stir together in a small saucepan:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Let it cook over medium heat, not stirring, until it's deep amber colored. Remove from heat and stir in:

1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk

Keep in a jar in the fridge and eat on ice cream, apple slices, etc.

Banana bread pudding
This is bread pudding with bananas, not pudding made from banana bread. In a greased 9x9 pan, stir together:

2 mashed bananas
2 cups bread crumbs (I used a large bagel cut into chunks)
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash salt
enough milk to cover most of the bread
a drizzle of the caramel sauce - as much as you want

Bake at 350 until it's not too gloppy anymore . . . 30 - 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream and more caramel sauce.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blast from the past

Quiz: who wrote this quasi-feminist text, and when?

Let us compare, if it pleases you, the advantages of married women with that which awaits virgins. Though the noble woman boasts of her abundant offspring, yet the more she bears the more she endures. Let her count up the comforts of her children, but let her likewise count up the troubles. She marries and weeps. How many vows does she make with tears. She conceives, and her fruitfulness brings her trouble before offspring. She brings forth and is ill. How sweet a pledge which begins with danger and ends in danger, which will cause pain before pleasure! It is purchased by perils, and is not possessed at her own will.

Why speak of the troubles of nursing, training, and marrying? These are the miseries of those who are fortunate. A mother has heirs, but it increases her sorrows. For we must not speak of adversity, lest the minds of the holiest parents tremble. Consider, my sister, how hard it must be to bear what one must not speak of.
("The problem that has no name", anyone?)

Why should I further speak of the painful ministrations and services due to their husbands from wives, to whom before slaves God gave the command to serve?

. . . . They paint their faces with various colors, fearing not to please their husbands. . . . What madness is here, to change the fashion of nature and seek a painting, and while fearing a husband’s judgment to give up their own. For she is the first to speak against herself who wishes to change that which is natural to her. So, while studying to please others, she displeases herself.

And the answer is . . . Saint Ambrose, writing to his sister in the year 377. Christianity has spent a lot of energy pushing wife- and motherhood as women's true roles. Yet when they would rather promote virginity, it's easy to point out how the roles trap and pain women.

"While studying to please others, she displeases herself." Ouch.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

I'm in charge of the Quaker meeting's Christmas pageant again. Last year someone decided the kids were going to do a mummer's play (traditional English pub play done at Christmastime, in which Saint George fights with a dragon, is slain, and gets raised from the dead). She then failed to show up for the rest of December, leaving me holding the reins. After that I figured I could do it a second year.

The kids first suggested doing the mummer's play again, mostly because they liked the dragon. Then they changed their minds and settled on doing the nativity story from the viewpoint of the animals present, provided they could pick the animals. Currently we have a camel, three dogs, a monkey, a snake, a colony of ants, and . . . a dragon. The good news is we have another month to figure out what the dragon was doing there.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Half an onion

Today when cooking dinner I used half an onion and put the other half in the fridge. I haven't done that in at least three years.

Know what that means? Jeff and I don't live with his parents any more. This week we moved to 380 square feet of our own in Cambridge. I come home and the door is locked because nobody is home before me. Not even a cat. When I cook dinner, there are just two of us to eat it. There's no point in cutting up a whole onion. Jeff doesn't even like onions.

I've been really committed to the idea of living in community ever since I figured out what it was. I've done the vegan women's student co-op, the Quaker center, and the summer camp. I've lived with three different families I'm not related to. I really think group living can be good for children, good for parents, good for old people, good for the environment, good for living cheaply. But here I am in an apartment, in a building full of people I haven't even made eye contact with.

I spent the first twenty-four hours crying. But it's something we need to try. (And eventually the apartment won't be covered in cardboard boxes.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Knock and it shall be opened?

The New England branch of Quakers is rewriting its book Faith and Practice. This month we were asked to provide feedback for a chapter on worship, starting with this:

Any willing person may come into communion with the Divine without special
ritual, at any time, in any place, under any external circumstance. All that is
required is desire, humility, and a willingness to wait for the Teacher who is
beyond time to come and teach in the present moment. The heart of the life of
the Religious Society of Friends is the communal meeting for worship. It is here
that we have the opportunity to experience the Sacred Presence in a way that
draws us into community and informs our lives, both as individuals and as a
religious body. Vital worship depends far more on a deeply felt longing for God
than on any particular practice.

Upon hearing these words read in business meeting last week, I felt grief at how much they differed from my experience.

In the seven years I’ve attended Friends’ meetings, I’ve never sensed the divine (either in or out of meeting). No meeting for worship has ever felt “gathered” to me. Maybe seven years isn’t long enough, or maybe I’m doing something wrong. I’ve certainly spent a good portion of worship time distracted, but I understand this happens to the best of Quakers.

From what I have heard people of faith say about their spiritual lives, I believe that they are genuinely experiencing something deep and powerful. I don’t think they’re making it up. But I have never tasted it.

During my year at Pendle Hill I described this situation to two Friends. One, from an evangelical meeting in Kenya, answered that I needed to pray harder. The other, from a liberal meeting in California, told me I was so in touch with the universal divine that I wasn’t even sensing it as a separate entity. Neither answer felt particularly helpful to me.

This is the truth I understand: there is no guarantee I will ever experience the divine. Maybe God has me written into her calendar for next Tuesday, and if I am paying attention then I will finally sense her. Maybe it will happen in a few decades. But maybe never.

I don’t expect Quakerism to bend over backwards to include nontheists like me. After all, as this chapter points out, worship is the heart of Quakerism. But it’s painful to hear my experience denied. Perhaps the intended meaning of this paragraph is “nothing outward is required to experience God - no clergy, no special ritual.” But that doesn’t mean that it will definitely happen. Some of us knock at that door and never make it inside.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back to earth

It's funny how a wedding shifts one's view of economy. For six months, you have to beat people off with a stick to keep them from giving you appliances. Jeff and I purposely didn't register anywhere and asked people to give to Oxfam instead, which worked very well. But there were still people who couldn't stand it and needed to give us those teflon pancake molds.

I think the Target website embodies the worst of the gift registry. No matter what you're looking at - a sofa, a video game, a lipstick - there's a button so you can add it to your wedding or baby registry. If there's anything you want, Target indicates, you can throw a party and ask your friends to buy it for you.

It's true. There's a brief frenzy during which people want to lavish attention and material goods on you. We even did some of it ourselves - last winter Jeff and I went to a pawn shop to get our wedding rings as Christmas presents for each other. At $75, my ring is probably the most expensive piece of jewelry I'll ever own.

And then . . . it's over. After living with Jeff's family for a year, we're now looking at flying the coop. As I tally up what we could take with us, I've realized how many of "our" things are actually borrowed. The things we do and don't own are sometimes laughable. We own:

An immersion blender but no saucepan.
A banjo, mandolin, guitar, stroh violin, bass, and maybe 6 whistles, but no CD player.
An oscilloscope but not a bed.
120 forks but no spoons.

Monday, July 06, 2009

How to balance this one?

For a long time my job strategy was to do something helpful. At a time when my best friend was depressed, I wanted to be a psychotherapist. After I started learning my third foreign language, I wanted to work with immigrants to the US. After my first class in the feminist and gender studies department, I wanted to work in a domestic violence shelter. Finally I wanted to travel to other countries and work in microfinance or some other kind of development.

And by now I've come to believe: my labor is not that useful to saving the world. I think the world's worst problems are not in the US, and I as an American am not particularly useful to solving them. Anyway, I seem to have gone through seventeen years of school without studying anything very practical.

So now I'm convinced that my money can actually do more good than my labor. For example, I could join the Peace Corps and spend a year learning a new language and the names of the people in my village, eventually maybe accomplishing some useful work during the second year. Or I could work a job I'm good at in the US and send my earnings to an organization in the village where people who actually know what they're doing can make their own decision about what they need most. (One thing I like about Oxfam is that they do most of their work by funding local partner organizations, rather than sending Americans zipping around the globe trying to fix things.)

There are some problems here:

1) not many people want to do good works, but lots of people want money. The competition for high-paying jobs is a lot higher than for directly useful jobs.

2) The thought of going into business, law, medicine, etc. makes me feel ill.

3) If money rather than work is going to be my primary contribution to the world, I don't know how much is enough. At our current cost of living, Jeff and I can easily get by on my $18,000 salary. (If that sounds low, please note that it's 25 times the median household income in Haiti). But since we keep more or less only what we need, we get no more benefit from a job that earns $80,000 than from one that earns $20,000. And I think most higher-paying jobs would result in me being less happy.

Usually I don't think money is a good goal. I think people are happier if they choose jobs they're good at and that leave them with free time and energy to spend doing other things. I'm distressed at the thought of measuring my life by it. And if I do something I'm actually interested in, like social work, I'm saving my sanity but abandoning people who don't have the basics they need.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Peanut curry

I've been having a tough time with the amount of meat my family eats. So it was time to bring out a really good vegan meal.

Peanut curry

Pour a little oil in a big skillet. Over medium heat, sauté:
a small onion, chopped

While that's cooking, get together some minced garlic and grated ginger. I grate the ginger right into the pan. Add those and sauté a little longer.

Spoon in:
a glob of peanut butter (crunchy is more interesting)
some lime juice
spicy stuff, if you live with people who will eat that.
soy sauce
some liquid to make it the right thickness - water, milk, or coconut milk
shredded coconut
chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat it through and it's done! I'm serving it with quinoa and steamed chard. Beautiful.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What is your money doing?

I'm pretty sure I want to get my master's degree in social work a few years from now. I've started saving money for tuition. Given that, I realized that it not only felt bad to leave my money sitting in a checking account with a huge multinational bank, but it made no sense.

So I started shopping for an ethical bank, and I've decided to open an account with ShoreBank. I'm satisfied with the ways it invests my money - small business loans in poor neighborhoods and environmental projects rather than giant corporations. And because their online savings accounts require so little overhead for them, the rate is quite good - much better than any account my old bank offered.

Are you happy with where your money is? You might read check out socially responsible investing and this list of socially responsible banks and credit unions.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beginnings and ends

Today we went to the memorial service for a man from our Quaker meeting. It was my first Quaker memorial service, only a few months after my first Quaker wedding (mine). A Quaker memorial is much like a Quaker wedding: people gather in silent worship, with people standing to speak as they are moved.

His wife was sitting on the bench in front of me, her river of brown hair hanging in front of me. It seemed so unfair that Bill should be dead before his wife's hair has even turned gray. She sat on that bench in the beautiful old Cambridge meetinghouse twenty-some years ago at their wedding.

Quaker wedding seem especially intergenerational to me. Before you can get married under the care of a Quaker meeting, you meet with a clearness committee made up of experienced married people. It's pre-marital counseling in group form - their purpose is basically to ask, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Bill and his wife were on my clearness committee last fall. Together we talked about the various struggles Jeff and I were likely to have - money, children, how we function socially.

I was also remembering the novel I Take Thee, Serenity, a novel about two college students deciding to have a Quaker wedding. The author, Daisy Newman, had been a member of Cambridge Meeting, where we were today. Upstairs I found two illustrations from the book hanging on the wall. The book is pretty terrible as a story about young people - the author was clearly not as with it as she thought. But the book really shines when describing the old Quakers the young couple gets to know. As the pair is exploring the idea of marriage, they watch a husband care for his wife who has suffered a stroke. As community deals with the illness and eventual death of this character, the young pair sees what they are in for. To marry when they are young and impassioned means to care for each other when they are old and dying. The book is about the full cycle of marriage, not just the exciting beginning.

Today Bill's niece, a young woman round with pregnancy, rose and spoke about her uncle's legacy. She realized that her baby would never know this man, so it would be up to her to teach the child about the qualities she loved in him. His gentleness, his patience with difficult people, his humor. It seemed very right that in this hall where Bill's marriage started, we should be talking about how to continue him after his death. That's a kind of immortality I can believe in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dwelling on grace

I was reading about how meditation can change people's brains. There's some evidence that people who spend lots of time meditating, like Buddhist monks, have brains that actually function differently from those of non-meditating people. Particular parts of the brain grow far more active. I do believe that focusing on something makes it grow bigger in your life - I've seen myself dwell on small problems until they become medium or large problems. But I love the idea that you can actually change how your brain works by practice.

My attempts at meditation have not been very satisfying. I fall asleep, make lists, or get up and do something else. Most Sunday mornings in silent Quaker meeting for worship I start by trying to focus my mind, but I don't last more than a few minutes. The only meditation technique I ever learned was counting breaths until you reach ten and then starting over. I often do this for part of meeting, but I've never experienced anything that made me want to keep doing it. I don't feel refreshed or relaxed.

So today in meeting I tried something different. At Pendle Hill I was introduced to centering prayer, which is focusing on a single holy word and letting all other thoughts go. The method had more or less existed for a long time, but was popularized in the 1970s by Catholic monks who wanted a way to draw in people familiar with Eastern religion. I picked the word "grace".

People talked about grace a lot at Pendle Hill. I remember a woman standing up in meeting and saying with wonder in her voice, "I was thinking about oil spills. And then I thought, what about a grace spill? A spill of grace?" I imagined it flowing and pooling over land and water, coating animal and people like petroleum on seagulls. I think it was the most potent thing I ever heard in meeting. But I realized I didn't have a solid definition of the word.

Christianity defines grace basically as "Gifts from God that we don't deserve." I don't believe in God, but I do see lots of undeserved gifts flowing around, pooling and spilling.

I see grace in my mother-in-law all the time. I try to do chores before she gets to them, but I keep finding some way she's cheerfully done something for me - my laundry hung up, the crumbs I left on the counter wiped up. I tried to talk her out of it, feeling I was accumulating debt to her. But she's not keeping track.

Actually, grace seems a main requirement of parenting. When I see people dealing patiently with their fussy children or surly teenagers, I'm impressed with what they're able to give when they don't seem to be receiving much.

And Jeff's grace pools around me every day. He's steady when I'm fragile, generous when I'm needy, loving when I'm prickly.

I'm not sure if what I was doing in meeting was what the monks had in mind, or if it was reshaping my brain. But I hope that by dwelling on grace, it will come to dwell more in me.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not so much rest

I'm playing with the idea of sabbath. Not because I think someone else wants me to do it, but because I really like the idea of devoting one day a week to rest and family.

So far it goes like this: Saturday I go to the store anyway, thinking "Really the sabbath is tomorrow." Sunday I do the laundry and tell myself, "Really the sabbath was yesterday. Maybe I'll do it next week."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been

This week I decided I was going to have all the religion I wanted. There's a lot to be had: Two seders with three hagadahs. One Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday. Two dozen eggs to dye. Two trays of hot cross buns. One Bach St. Matthew Passion (listened to from youtube, since the library copy was checked out). Two loaves of tsoureki. One dawn service Easter morning with three people, then another one at 10 with hundreds. One Bach Easter cantata. Plenty of Morris dancing (arguably pagan). Several lamb dinners.

I loved it. I still don't believe in a higher power, but this season pulls me in. I still don't know if it's somehow wrong to celebrate festivals of religions you find ultimately false. But this year I soaked in it.


Eggs (Cadbury and Ukrainian), Eostre, matzoh, forsythia.

The finished basket.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The secret garden

I'm considering an act of guerrilla horticulture.

This is what I see every morning as I wait for the train. It's a triangle of land wedged between the post office and the train station (which no longer sells tickets - there's just a brick shelter where you can get out of the rain if you don't mind the smell). The cement picnic table does not appear to have ever hosted any picnics, especially given the "no trespassing" sign on the wall next to it. Granted, there are also "no trespassing" signs framing the entrance to the much-used post office parking lot, so maybe what they meant was closer to "no loitering" or "no skateboarding".

This morning I looked at this patch of land with a gardener's eyes. Vegetable gardening is ill-advised, since the soil is probably contaminated with lead. And I have no idea how rich the soil is - right now it's mostly bare with a few dandelions. But with full southern exposure, it could easily support an array of hardy wildflowers. In my imagination, it's full summer and the triangle is bursting with sunflowers, butterfly bush, daylilies, black-eyed susans, and purple coneflowers.

Today after work I went into the post office and asked if I could plant some flowers. (I figured "flowers" rather than "garden" sounds smaller and more harmless.) They said it was a nice idea and to go ask the manager at the larger post office nearby. I biked over there and was directed to the manager. He seemed worried he'd be liable if I somehow injured myself in a horrific trowel accident. He wanted to to know what kinds of flowers I was thinking of and why ("they're hard to kill"). But he admitted that right now they just have a contractor who sprays down the weeds once a year. He said he'd think about it and give me a call.

So now I wait. And if he says no, I think I'm going with the plan anyway. I had never heard of it, but it turns out that guerilla gardening is a widespread movement. The downside, of course, is that I risk the weed-spraying contractor coming and killing everything. And the manager now has my name, address, and phone number, so he'd know exactly who was responsible for any midnight plantings.

I'm thinking of several songs. One is Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land":

As I was walking, I saw a sign there
And that sign said "no trespassing,"
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me.

The other is Carrie Newcomer's:

Never doubt or question the power of love
Or one woman with a shovel.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Yesterday I read a newspaper article that made me intensely envious. It was about a freelance cellist who earns $36,000 a year and leads what the paper describes as a shockingly limited life: He has no cell phone. He and his wife live in a small Cambridge apartment and own only one car. They share a bedroom with their baby and seven-year-old, whom the wife homeschools. To me, it sounds like paradise.

I've heard people, especially Quakers, say that we should value our time above money and our lives above our jobs. Don't work yourselves to death, they urge. Lead a simple life, and you'll be happier than if you ran yourself ragged chasing status or money. This advice would seem very sensible to me if I were responsible for only myself and my family.

How do we decide what our responsibility is to other people? Peter Singer's classic example: you see a child drowning in a shallow pond. Do you wade in to save the child, ruining your $30 shoes? Of course. To value your shoes above the child's life would be monstrous. Now: do you spend $30 on a new pair of shoes, when the money could provide a vaccination (or small loan, or mosquito net, or whatever) that would save someone's life or allow them to get decent housing, education, or healthcare?

I believe that in a better world, we would all shoulder more responsibility for each other. Those who had enough wouldn't spend their extra money on a bigger place to live, or the vacation, or the shoes. They would send it to people who need it. It's pretty clear that a small percentage of rich countries' GDPs - or a fraction of our military spending - could end the worst of world poverty. Governments and charities aren't perfect - some money and effort will always be wasted, but most of it will go to its intended use.

In a better world, Jeff and I might give away only a quarter or so of our income. In ten or fifteen years we could have that one-bedroom apartment with a kid or two. I could even spend some years not working a paid job, but taking care of my kids and growing a rockin' vegetable garden. When we were old, we would have young people in our family. These goals aren't wrong in themselves - I think they're quite a good way to spend a lifetime. But leading the life I would find most fulfilling would be neglecting my duty to other people. Having those kids would mean taking away time and money that would be more effectively spent improving the lives of children already alive and in need. A quarter of our income is more than most people do, but it's less than we can do.

I had the very good fortune to find someone who wants to spend his life with a lunatic philanthropist like me. Jeff does insist on some things I consider luxury - a savings account and a small weekly allowance for clothes, travel, and fun. But when I consider our future, I find myself looking at the soul-deadening life Quakers keep warning me about. The two of us, living in a rented room someplace, earning money to send to people who need it more. Spending our lives chasing a paycheck, and sitting in our rented room when we're too old to work. It's a lot better than living in a refugee camp, but it kind of makes me want to quit now before I have to do 60 more years of it.

Am I missing something? I know about only a handful of people who actually live like this. I know more (Peter Singer included) who say "This is what's morally right, but it sounds miserable. I'll make baby steps, but I'm not actually going to live like that." Does the rest of the world have good reasons for living for themselves and their immediate circle, or do we all just find it too scary to do otherwise?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What changes

At the wedding, a friend asked me if I thought being married was going to change my life. I can now answer:

My relationship with Jeff doesn't feel different, except that we have more free time now because we're not planning a wedding. What does feel different is our relationship to society at large.

This whole wedding thing has made me feel embarassingly status quo. I always hated the words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" because they sounded so smug and teenagerish. "Fiancee" is even worse, as it sounds like an irritating woman who keeps waving the rock on her left hand at people. I quite liked "partner", partly because it made other people say things like "Wait, are you marrying a man or a woman?"

As soon as we got engaged, people who really only knew one of us started addressing party invitations and Christmas cards to both of us. Facebook was suddenly full of ads for teeshirts emblazoned "Future Mrs. Smith" and "Mrs. Williams In Training". The other day we got our first package addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Kaufman. (As far as I can tell, I'm not a Mrs. of any kind.)

On the more pleasant side, we can file our taxes jointly - Jeff is doing it right now, although he spent the first half of the evening filling out the 2007 forms by mistake. I'm on his insurance. We were actually registered as domestic partners for this purpose last fall, but it's cheaper if the federal government recognizes your relationship. If we end up applying to the Peace Corps, we can go together. We can travel together in more conservative countries and not have to stay in separate rooms. Heck, we can even stay in my childhood bedroom without my father forbidding it on the grounds of being "too awkward."

In stepping into this pattern, I keep thinking about the people who can't or don't. The tax breaks they don't get, the insurance coverage, the cards sent to both of them, the congratulations, the soup pots and spatulas.

The most important part is still the part I was worried about the October night I sat Jeff down under a tree and told him I wanted to marry him. I had tried looking at my life without him in it, and I didn't like how it looked. I wanted him to know I was in it for good, and I wanted to know if the same was true of him. I wanted us to be able to plan where we were going to live, how we were going to live, knowing we could each count on the other being there.

Will you forgive me for closing with a little sentiment?

If truth be told,
It was not priest, who made us one,
Nor finger
circled with gold,
Nor soft delights when day is done
and arms enfold.
These bonds are firm,
but in death-storm
They may not hold-
We were welded man and wife
By hammer-strokes of daily life.

Ellen Sophia Bosanquet, 1938

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We did it!

My favorite parts:

falling asleep the night before listening to Jeff and assorted friends play contra dance music downstairs. I love falling asleep while other people are still up making music.

Jeff's uncle reciting (most of) Shakespeare's sonnet 116 during the wedding

twenty-some gorgeous chocolate cakes made my Jeff, my sister, and me

biking to Concord in the sunshine the next day

Now we have free time again. So we can do things like:
learn to drive stick!
read books!
figure out if we want to move to Morocco! (Seriously.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hey, this is what I'm going for!

"Open air wedding dance", Pieter Bruegel the Younger. Don't they look like they're having fun?

Three more days.

Monday, March 02, 2009

What the songs have to say

Did you ever notice how many pop songs from the 50s and 60s involve references to marriage, even when it seems totally out of place? Think of John Lennon's tomcat howling to "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" with the totally incongruous line "Girl, I want to marry you." Earlier periods had songs that really were about marriage - think 1873's hit "Silver Threads among the Gold":

When your hair is silver white,
And your cheeks no longer bright,
With the roses of the May,
I will kiss your lips and say,
Oh! My darling, mine alone, alone,
You have never older grown!

But that transition period in the 20th century seemed to produce a lot of songs using marriage references as a weird coverup for songs about short-term sexual attraction.

The songs that have been running through my mind, though, are the older traditional songs of America and Britain. There are some bitter ones, complete with child abuse, cold feet on your legs, no dinner, and screaming babies:

The very first year me wife I married
Out of her company I could not stray
Her voice as sweet as a lark or a linnet,
Or the song of the nightingale at break of day.

Now she's fairly altered her meaning,
Now she`s fairly changed her tune
Nothing but scolding comes from her mouth
A poor man's labor's never done.

All young men that is to marry,
Don't, they'll grieve you evermore
Death, o death come take my wife,
And then my troubles will all be o'er.

Or this one:

Come all you young men that are going to be wed
Don't be trapped like a bird with a small bit of bread
I'd have you be careful in choosing of a wife
O, for when you are trapped you remember it through life.

Or from the woman's perspective:

Sorry the day I was married
And sorry the day I was wed
And it's oh, if I only had tarried
When I to the altar was led.

Think, pretty maids, ere you marry
Stand fast by your sweet liberty
And as long as you can you must tarry
And not be lamenting like me.

The pressures of poverty:

When I was single, went dressed all so fine,
Now I am married, go ragged all the time.
Three little babes crying for bread
With none to give them, I'd rather be dead.
When he comes in it's a curse and a row
Knocking down the children and pulling out my hair.
Lord, don't I wish I was a single girl again.

But there are happier ones. There are a lot about young lovers who face down angry parents to win their own happiness. Usually the man turns out to be somehow better than they thought, as in Willie O'Winsbury when he's unexpectedly good-looking and rich:

But when he came before the king
He was clad all in the red silk
His hair was like the strands of gold
His skin was as white as the milk

"It is no wonder," said the king
"That my daughter's love you did win
For if I was a woman, as I am a man
My bedfellow you would have been."

"Now will you marry my daughter Janet
By the truth of your right hand?
Will you marry my daughter Janet?
I'll make you lord of all my land."

"Oh yes, I'll marry your daughter Janet
By the truth of my right hand
Oh yes, I'll marry your daughter Janet
But I'll not be the lord of your land."

He's mounted her on a milk-white steed
Himself on a dapple grey
He has made her the lady of as much land
As she will ride in a long summer's day.

In "Jock O' Hazeldean", the bride deserts the man her family has picked out and runs away with her lover instead:

The kirk was deck'd at morningtide
The tapers glimmer'd fair
The priest and bridegroom wait the bride
And dame and knight were there
They sought her baith by bower and ha'
The lady was na' seen:
She's o'er the border and awa'
Wi' Jock o' Hazeldean.

I love how old songs aren't nearly as straightforward you would expect. The king meets the man who got his daughter pregnant. . . only to declare that it's fine because he's so hot? We'll finish with "The Blaeberry Courtship", about a highland man who woos a lowland woman . . . with jam.

"O the hills are bonny when the heather's in bloom.
'T would cheer a fine fancy in the month o' June
To pu' the blaeberries and carry them home,
And set them on your table when December comes on."

At the end of the song he turns out to be her old sweetheart from school, whom she somehow hadn't recognized. He reminds her of how she used to share her lunch with him:

"For don't ye remember, when at school wi' me,
I was hated by all the rest, loved by thee?
How oft have I fed on your bread and your cheese
When I had naething else but a handful o' peas.
Your hard-hearted faither did hunt me wi' dogs;
They rave all my bare heels and tore all my rags."

"Is this my dear Sandy whom I loved so dear?
I have not heard of you for mony a year.
When all the rest went to bed, sleep was frae me
For thinkin' whatever had become o' thee.
In love we began and in love we will end,
And in joy and mirth we will our days spend."


Friday, February 27, 2009

Not so unorthodox

As the wedding draws closer, I've been biting my nails a little about whether people will think us cheap for not serving wine or odd for having so little pomp and circumstance. Tonight I turned to an old friend for comfort as she describes a wedding of the 1860s.

There were to be no ceremonious performances, everything was to be as natural and homelike as possible, so when Aunt March arrived, she was scandalized to see the bride come running to welcome and lead her in, to find the bridegroom fastening up a garland that had fallen down. . . .

"Upon my word, here's a state of things!" cried the old lady, taking the seat of honor prepared for her, and settling the folds of her lavender moire with a great rustle. "You oughtn't to be seen till the last minute, child."

"I'm not a show, Aunty, and no one is coming to stare at me, to criticize my dress, or count the cost of my luncheon. I'm too happy to care what anyone says or thinks, and I'm going to have my little wedding just as I like it. John, dear, here's your hammer." And away went Meg to help `that man' in his highly improper employment. . . .

Everybody cleared up after that, and said something brilliant, or tried to, which did just as well, for laughter is ready when hearts are light. There was no display of gifts, for they were already in the little house, nor was there an elaborate breakfast, but a plentiful lunch of cake and fruit, dressed with flowers. Mr. Laurence and Aunt March shrugged and smiled at one another when water, lemonade, and coffee were found to be to only sorts of nectar. . . .

"That is the prettiest wedding I've been to for an age, Ned, and I don't see why, for there wasn't a bit of style about it," observed Mrs. Moffat to her husband, as they drove away. . . .

The little house was not far away, and the only bridal journey Meg had was the quiet walk with John from the old home to the new. When she came down, looking like a pretty Quakeress in her dove-colored suit and straw bonnet tied with white, they all gathered about her to say goodby, as tenderly as if she had been going to make the grand tour.

- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Monday, February 02, 2009


You may remember that I really like Valentine's Day, provided it focuses on making stuff out of construction paper. And maybe desserts that involve raspberries.

If you would like a valentine (possibly made out of construction paper) sent to you, email me with your address at juliawise07(at)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hope springs eternal

Last night, reading cookbooks and dreaming of spring vegetables, I ran outside to look at the strip of land between our driveway and the neighbor's driveway where I'm going to build a raised garden. It's currently four feet deep in snow. If I didn't trust other people's word that spring really does come to New England, I'd be very worried right now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Required to emote

I see more and more sales pitches based, strangely enough, on love.

From Citizens’ Bank “Credo”:
Hug the customer. Smile. Say thank you. Return phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner. Do whatever you can every day, in every way, to provide world-class service. Give customers a reason to say, “Wow, I love these people.” In short, treat the customer the way you would love to be treated all the time.

It's an odd blend of professionalism and Barney the dinosaur. Of course bank workers should return my phone calls, but they should not hug me. I may appreciate their good service, but I will not say, "I love these people." And as a worker I shouldn't be required to display emotional attachment to people who are in fact not my friends but my customers.

When Jeff and I were researching wedding rings and the ethical problems with the gold industry, I read a series of incredible statements by companies selling "ethical gold". Cred Jewelry's slogan is "Mined with love, made with love, to show your love". On their website they explain that they mean their company "will work toward" standards like:

Employment is freely chosen.
Working conditions are safe and hygienic.
Child labour is not used.
No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.

In short, they mean "We're approaching normal American labor law." Because most gold miners work in conditions that more resemble slavery, by comparison this constitutes mining "with love". Likewise, Equal Exchange fairly-traded products have the slogan "From small farmers with love." I can just picture a miner smiling fondly as he shovels, thinking, "Some American will be really happy when her husband pays hundreds of dollars for this bit of metal." Or a coffee farmer picking beans and thinking, "This will make a wonderful latte for someone in Germany." Even if you treat him better than your competition, don't expect me to believe that man loves his job. How about "Mined with dignity"? "Farmed fairly"?

By all means, let's treat each other with compassion and respect. Do whatever you do - mining, selling coffee, answering the phone - fairly and ethically. Work on your agape. But don't confuse business interests with love.

Friday, January 16, 2009


For a couple of weeks now I've been making little things to carry around with me in my pocket (flannel birds, matchbox shrines) to make me feel better. And it works, but I realized yesterday that it's the making and not the carrrying that has the effect.

My new year's resolution is to make more art.