Friday, April 30, 2010

A stitch in time

Working at an international aid organization, the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake has been interesting to watch.

People are riveted by suffering. Months after the quake, people are still calling to donate for that specific purpose. I gently try to steer them to a general donation. "We've raised all the money we can responsibly spend in the next 5 years. At this point, donations are really more needed in other parts of the world." This is not what they want to hear.

Haiti got $1.55 billion in aid just now, largely because it was on the news. Darfur (remember Darfur?) is not on TV. Nor is Congo. Nor is Pakistan. Nor are millions of poor people around the world whose daily lives are a disaster.

I thought this was the most brilliant thing I've ever seen on aid: Prevent Disasters

I hear people say on the phone, "I saw how bad it was, and I wanted to do something." I'm glad that they're moved to help. But Haiti needed help long before the earthquake. It wouldn't have been so awful there if people had decent housing to begin with. People need help all over the globe, and they will need it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Not just when they're on the news.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The good life

It's always interesting to find more names that exist for things you were already doing. This week I discovered two new ones:

Radical Homemakers
Reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture

Urban Homesteaders
Sustainability, economy, pleasure

I was recently at a party where people were talking about their jobs and what they do for fun outside their jobs (running, music, etc). When asked, I felt kind of dumb answering, "I like keeping house."

But I do enjoy it. I always thought I would make a good 19th-century farmwife, except I didn't want the isolation of living on a farm. But even in a small urban apartment, I find it satisfying to do things myself. Keeping house wouldn't be an occupation if we ordered take-out or bought pre-made food. If we dropped our laundry off from somone else to wash and dry, or even if we used the dryers downstairs. If we hired other people to clean our space. If we bought all our clothes and furniture new instead of adapting things other people don't want. To some people these are all chores, but to me they're (usually) small pleasures.

This week I took a sick day, but wasn't too ill to get stuff done around the house. I moved the furniture, cleaned everything from the baseboards to the inside of the microwave, painted a dresser, made a birdfeeder, baked bread, watched a movie, and planted lettuce and swiss chard in windowboxes. It was the best day ever.

I don't want to quit my job and raise chickens full-time. I think I owe the world better service than that. But I would like to take a day every two weeks or so just to . . . keep house.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The rhythm of the week

I'm fascinated by the ways household work has changed over time. Today I had a laundry revelation.

I've never done laundry without a washing machine, but for the last five years or so I haven't used a dryer. In summer you can do the whole operation in a day, but in winter, the routine is more like:
Day 1: Get home from work, put laundry in machine. Put on your coat and hang the laundry on lines outside. Laundry freezes.
Day 2: Laundry slowly dries, going straight from solid to gas.
(If snowing or raining, insert more days here.)
Day 3: Take the laundry in.

I just realized the reason for ordering the days of the week Monday: wash day, Tuesday: ironing day, etc, ending in Saturday: baking day and Sunday: day of rest. Baking is something you want to do right before you need it, so the bread is fresh. (At the Orthodox Jewish preschool where my mother worked, all the other teachers left on Fridays at noon to get their baking and cooking done before sunset.) But laundry is unpredictable. If you want clean clothes for church and can't work on the sabbath, you'd better start your laundry well in advance.

There's an English song about it:
'Twas on a Monday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-washing of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

It continues with hanging her linen on Tuesday, starching it on Wednesday, etc. until on Sunday she's finally a-wearing of her linen-o. This has always begged two questions: Where was she going so fast with that smoothing iron? And what was she wearing the rest of the week? No wonder he found her so charming!