Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Office Supply Store or Den of Iniquity

I have come to depend on friends to recommend new fiction, as I seem unable to spend any energy to find my own these days.

Helen's post about Carrie Pilby was so intriguing, I had to order it through interlibrary loan.

Helen appreciated Carrie's love of dictionaries, but I found an echo of my own soul in this passage about office supplies:

The nice thing about living in the Village is that it means you're close to New York University, and NYU has the best stationery shops in the world, I suppose because of the writers and film students. You can find forty-two colors of paper clips; twenty-three sizes of envelopes; seventy-six kinds of pens; markers with gold ink, silver ink, chartreuse ink, invisible ink, disappearing ink, peppermint ink, glittering ink, pink ink, scented ink and glue ink. It's been too long since I've been stationery shopping. The problem is, I suddenly need everything I see. Take those long pink erasers. All of my pencils have their own erasers, so there's no need for me to buy a pink eraser, but they just look so clean and nubile that I have to caress them. Forget what Nabokov said: the real pleasure in life is fondling office supplies. I could bite those pink erasers.


Yes, I know--there is something laughable about a person who thinks she's getting wild because she's going to buy office supplies. Well, you have your fun. You can watch your pornos and smoke your grass and climb onto your rooftop with a bottle of hooch and howl at the moon, but I will RUN MY FINGERS OVER MY NUBILE PINK ERASER AND GASP IN ECSTASY. And I won't wake up with a hangover or unsightly teeth marks on my neck.
Maybe I've been holed up too long in this little room making tiny red and blue marks on large stacks of paper, but I must admit to my (slightly) obsessive love of office supplies.

And it's gotten so bad that, like a drunk sucking down Nyquil, I even get a thrill over $1 notebooks and gel pens from Target when I can't afford rice paper and mechanical pencils from Kinokuniya.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cold Calling

Can there be anything more dreadful than sending out cold emails to find a job?

I hate doing them, but I'm trying to drum up more freelance business. So, I just sent out eight emails to university presses hoping they'll be astounded by my resume and hire me.

The worst part is trying to sound confident, yet somehow humble, professional, yet somehow personable. When all I really want to say is, "I'm good -- hire me."

I suppose I should be content, because the next step is probably even worse: asking people to provide references. "Don't you think I'm good? -- tell them too." Urk.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Birth School Work Death

(un)relaxeddad seems to have created an intriguing little meme-like thing. And what better way to avoid finishing my latest job than to make a blog post?

Birth: I came in while my mother was in "twilight sleep," my son came in while I was completely asleep, and my daughter came in while I was awake.

School: Can I deconstruct this novel and write a 5-page paper on it the morning the paper's due?

Work: I could either come back to work at the cube farm where I "motivate" people to do their mind-numbing work, or I could stay at home with my kids and work when I want to on projects I enjoy -- hmmm, let's see....

Death: Each day I experience death -- in the food that I eat, in the hairs that fall out of my head, and sometimes more directly in small animals fallen on the grass; yet despite all this I truly know nothing at all of the realm of death, and only cling to what faith I can muster from ideas of what follows death that are of some comfort.


Hoo-kay, that was a bit harder than I thought. Plus I'm so long-winded that I had to resort to the evils of semicolons and the sneakiness of em-dashes to comply with the "one sentence each" bit.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On a lighter note...

OK, that last post was way too serious. Time for some more Harry Potter:

Hermione's a great feminist role model and all, but as a mom and knitter, I must claim Molly Weasley as my true hero.

She may fall short in the homemaking department, and her taste in sweaters is unusual...but do not mess with her! From that first howler she sent Ron to her dueling skills in HP 7, Molly proves herself to be one strong mama.

I also envy her the Burrow and all its accoutrements. Wouldn't I love a clock that showed me what my loved ones were up to? Wouldn't I love a house that had room for loads of guests? And wouldn't I love a cool husband like Arthur? Oh that's right, I do have a cool husband. Check one thing off the list!

I think she echoes the deep feelings of all parents when her worst fear (as revealed by the boggart) is the death of her loved ones. She has devoted herself to her family, with intense love. It speaks to me personally that Rowling's tone when describing her is a bit teasing (as an adult child might shake their head over a parent's oddities) but in truth really respectful of her power as a mother.

Anyway, it's not all that deep, Molly just rocks!

Steiner and Racism

I've been mulling over a blog post on anthroposophy for a long time now. You see, it touches on a very touchy and contentious subject: racism. And I haven't been sure I really want to step into such murky waters. Much of the criticism of Steiner published online revolves around the racism question, and it is so inflammatory and biased that I hesitate to add another voice to the discussion.

However it's something that I think anthroposophists cannot shirk from. Steiner exhorted us to shine the light of consciousness on everything we say and do. And I certainly don't think that a balanced view of this issue can be obtained by reading what is already out there.

Steiner had a lot to say about human development, evolution, and the role "races" have to play in the spiritual development of mankind. Unfortunately, many of his statements, if taken out of the overall context of his beliefs and other statements, sound baldly racist to modern ears. And that is a valid concern today, given that Waldorf teacher training includes extensive reading of Steiner's books and lectures.

Much of the discourse on this subject has been based on cherry-picking quotes to back up opposing claims, as can be done with the Bible (e.g., Thou shalt not kill vs. thou shalt not suffer a witch to live). I don't think that kind of argumentation is productive, so here I will not give any quotations but merely give my perspective.

I will be clear from the start: in my opinion, Steiner was not racist in the way that we use the word today. He believed in the exalted spiritual nature of each human being, regardless of their physical or cultural ancestry. To him, any artificial divisions among groups of people -- race, religion, nationality -- are materialistic and counter to the goals of spiritual development both for individuals and humanity as a whole. Time and again in his books and public speeches Steiner declaimed against divisiveness (in fact, his writings against nationalism were in large part why the Nazis suppressed anthroposophy and Waldorf schools in Germany).

I will give one example, though I tread lightly here. Steiner believed that the function of Jewish culture and religion was to properly develop a hereditary stream for Jesus to incarnate into. Therefore, after Jesus was born, in some sense the Jewish culture and religion were no longer necessary for humanity's spiritual development.

He did not mean, to my understanding, that Jews should be eradicated or are somehow less developed or valid than other people. He just meant that the impulse of the Jewish faith was no longer the most current in the overall stream of human spiritual development.

You see how tricky this gets?

Now the question is: how much of this affects Waldorf schools? The fact is that some of Steiner's lectures that include discussion of race are typically included in Waldorf teacher training programs, though in my experience not for the purpose of discussing race or even really anything to do with teaching. They are merely part of the overall picture of Steiner's work and belief about human evolution and Christianity. And teachers do typically continue to study Steiner's works during their work as teachers. So this question does merit some examination into current Waldorf methodologies.

And the next question: even if we were to decide that some of Steiner's comments were racist, does that mean we have to reject everything else he said and did? Perhaps it's overly apologetic, but after all, he was a white male Roman Catholic from the 19th century German culture. No matter how much we think he was clairvoyant and special, he was still a human being, and error could have crept in. Do his beliefs about the ancient evolution of humanity truly cast a pall over the demonstrable good that his other works do: Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophic medicine, socially beneficial banking, to name a few?

Steiner said explicitly that we no longer need gurus. We no longer need to take anyone's words as articles of faith, and in fact doing so will hinder our development. Concepts must grow and develop, and to simply take what was given in the past leads to petrification instead of fruitfulness. So we have to read Steiner and decide for ourselves whether what he said even applies to our time today. I believe he was showing us the way that race was important in the past, and in doing so he underscores how unimportant it is for the present.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Two Big Reasons I'm Not Writing Blog Posts

(1) I have a 450-page copyediting job due at the end of the week.

(2) I spent every free moment of the weekend reading Harry Potter #7.

More soon!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deep preschooler thoughts

This afternoon the kids were playing in their room. Every so often one of them would run out to say something to me, or ask for help. Napoleona at one point came to me while I was washing the dishes and asked for help getting her shirt on. She must have known that I would wonder why she was changing her previously clean clothes, because she said, "Mama, we have to change our clothes because they're all oily from our bodies."

First thought: not for about 10 years, sweetie. Second thought: did I once say something to them about skin secretions or something, or did she just pick that up from the ether?

Then at dinner, we had just said grace and were starting our meal, when I noticed SillyBilly wasn't eating. He looked at me thoughtfully and asked, "Mama, can salamanders clean their feet?"

After a bit of back and forth, we determined that he was thinking about how they might be able to clean their own feet with their "long tongues." Must have been confusing them with chameleons.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Book Quiz

I found this quiz via Helen. Not what I expected.

You're Cry, the Beloved Country!

by Alan Paton

Life is exceedingly difficult right now, especially when you put more miles (2800!) between yourself and your hometown. But with all sorts of personal and profound convictions (I will spend my alone time working, I will not blog, I will not...doh!), you are able to keep a level head and still try to help folks, (Mama, I can't turn my shirt right side out! Mama, I'm poopy! Mama, I fell and my knee is bleeding!) no matter how much they harm you (my kids do excel at bonking my nose with their hard little heads). You walk through a land of natural beauty (Northeastern US mixed hardwood forest) and daily horror (must be referring to the state of the bathroom right now). In the end, far too much is a matter of black and white (or perhaps a matter of dirt and clean, or work and sleep).

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Little Bit of My Day

The last few days, Anthropapa and I have been stricken with nasty sore throats, which now have the added bonus thrill of swollen, painful lymph nodes.

So this morning I decided to see if I could tell if I have strep throat. I went to the bathroom, grabbed my toothbrush, and said aaahhh, gag, ack.

Then I realized that I couldn’t see a damn thing back there, and so I went to get a flashlight from the bedroom. Then I realized I had no idea where to find one (bad emergency planning, I know) even though we probably own at least a dozen Maglites in various sizes. (Note: after reading that linked page, I must assure you that we only use our mini Maglites for lighting, not weaponry!)

Then I remembered that Anthropapa had one in his desk the other day, because we swapped out the batteries for our DVD remote (priorities set right: video entertainment over emergency preparedness!)

I found said flashlight, and opened it to see if it had any batteries after the DVD remote resuscitation efforts. As I did this, I dropped the little cap end of the battery compartment, and it rolled under Anthropapa’s desk.

This was a major problem. I bent down to check under the desk gingerly as those lymph nodes in my neck protested the change in position. After fishing out an ungodly amount of cat-hair bunnies, paper clips, old junk mail envelopes, and such (I’m probably revealing a little bit too much here about our sad lack of cleanliness. I’m too tired to edit it back out), I recovered the cap.

Then I found some old and possibly dead batteries on my desk, tried to put them into the flashlight, and somehow jammed one of them in there. I tried to get it out with tweezers, which did not succeed at all. In frustration I banged that battery even deeper into the flashlight.

Thankfully Anthropapa came home for lunch just then, got the jammed battery out with his manly strength, and found me a working flashlight.

Then I realized I would have to gag myself again. Sigh.

After shooing Anthropapa out of the bathroom (I somehow felt squeamish about having someone watch me do this) I bravely took hold of the toothbrush in one hand, and the brightly shining flashlight in the other, and did the deed.

Nothing unsightly back there that I could see, but we’ll try to see the doctor tomorrow just to be sure.

Coming soon: strep throat, mononucleosis, or...diphtheria? Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Interview

Charlotte has kindly passed along some tailor-made interview questions for me. Up close and personal...

Charlotte: What first brought you to Waldorf education, and what attracts you about it?

Kristine: This question reveals how random destiny can seem! After I graduated college, I began working in the health insurance industry. This wasn't a career goal or anything inspiring: my dad gave me a referral for a job within his company! After a few years I was still uninspired. One day I was looking around on the internet for inspiration, and I remember that I had read something interesting years before, in the Utne Reader magazine, about something called Waldorf education. I found that only a few miles away from us was one of the 3 colleges in the US that trains Waldorf teachers! I called them up, took a tour, and entered the Weekend Foundation Year. I ended up deciding not to be a teacher, but that experience has guided my life and my parenting since then.

What attracts me about Waldorf education is its focus on balance. The vision behind Waldorf is that human beings are not just brains: the common Waldorf school slogan is "educating head, heart, and hands." So the curriculum, teaching methods, and even the physical spaces in a Waldorf school are designed to help the child develop all parts of their being, in a harmonious way. Intellectual development is honored at the right time, and is not forced upon the child too soon so that other capacities are stunted or delayed. In fact, many tenets in this regard are being borne out by scientific research, in particular in the area of neurological development. In the Waldorf kindergarten, for example, emphasis is placed on physical activity and learning through imitation in the form of play. So the young child starts to "learn" about language through learning songs that the teacher sings to them each day, and develops self-control, social awareness, and the inner capacity to form images and concepts through imaginative play.

Charlotte: In your blog you appear very calm and as if nothing gets under your skin. Is there anything that drives you stark raving mad?

Kristine: This question got a big laugh! I'm glad that I appear calm and serene in this blog. However, to my shame I often lose my cool at home. Right now my big challenge is my dear son, who at almost 5 years old does like to be contrary and outright rude sometimes. We definitely have some intense karma with each other, starting from his birth. For some reason we have a dynamic where I feel like he doesn't want to do what I say (which in a preschooler is completely true!) but also with a feeling that he is blocking or hindering me. I have no idea where this feeling is coming from, and it seems like one of those lifelong things we will have to work on.

The other thing that gets my goat is rude service people! Though I know from Kerryn that there are rude librarians on the other side of the globe, sometimes it seems like all of them work at my local branch. I'm sure the people at the checkout counter really have a thankless job: they probably take some of the most idiotic questions in the world, and there are many people living around here with only a tenuous grasp of English. But why do they have to lump me in there? I worked for many years in a call center, so I have remained sensitive to customer service, good or bad.

Charlotte: If I could wave a magic wand and give you a no strings attached month off, all expenses paid, to spend on your OWN, what would you do?

Kristine: How startling that I am having a hard time thinking of something to do on my OWN! I start to think of things to do, but then I would want to share them with my family, or at least my husband. If pressed, I would probably go off to a retreat center, or possibly somewhere like the Rudolf Steiner Institute where I could take enriching classes and do art and be out in nature. In fact, that's exactly what I would do: weeks of "Doing Sculpture as Transformative Activity" and "Healing & Destiny: Anthroposophical Medicine for the Lay Person" and "Returning to the Sacred in Every Day Matters through Food, Movement & Healing Ritual".

Charlotte: You work as an editor now. What is it that you love about language?

Kristine: I love that when my kids ask me about words, I can tell them about the etymology and synonyms and all of those things, without being too pedantic. My son will crack up laughing if I say "At the boat store, do they have a sail sale?" or he will ask me "Why is it called 'dinner', Mama?" and I have to go check my dictionary. For me language is living, even when strict rules are applied in my work. Recently I've worked on several compilations of lectures from Switzerland that were originally transcribed in German and then translated to English. I had to modernize them, taking out all the literally translated convoluted German phrasing. What an amazing experience: to try to keep the spirit of the original thoughts (as far as I can tell) while making the words flow to the modern American ear. I also love idioms: I've studied several languages over the years, and things like how you say "Good Luck" in Italian just thrill me. (You say In bocca al lupo "Into the wolf's mouth", and the other person says Crepi il lupo "May the wolf die.").

Charlotte: How did you meet Anthropapa and how long have you been together? What are your tips for a happy marriage?

Kristine: Ooh, a juicy question...I met Anthropapa in college at a party! We had never met, but through mutual friends I went to one of the monthly "Pasta Nights" he and his roommates hosted. This one was the second-to-last one ever, and it was a Friday the 13th! Despite the bad luck, we hit it off right away. We've been together for 17 years, and married for 13 years. (Papa B. can corroborate most of this, if you need proof.)

As far as tips for marital happiness...for us I think one big thing is that, cliche or not, we are good friends. We got to know each other well before we got married, and we have remained interested in each other after all these years, even after major changes. Also we have similar personalities and have similar tastes. And really trying not to take things personally, trying to see the other person's needs and perspective, has helped me handle bumps in the road. Also lots of chocolate.

Since most of my 10 loyal readers (except for you lurking grandparents!) probably already read Charlotte's Web, it's unlikely that I will be able to pass this one on. But if you insist:

1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Raw milk adventures

Every week from spring through autumn we are part of a raw milk co-op with Pleroma Farm. Why do we choose raw milk? (I'll start using first person here so I don't try to speak for Anthropapa.) I like that the cows eat only grass and hay, their natural diet. I like that I know the farmer personally. I like that the milk comes from an antique breed (Dutch Belted) of cow that has not been bred for unnatural milk production (like modern Holsteins). I like that there are no artificial ingredients in the milk. I like that the milk is totally unprocessed.

And that leads us to the part that makes most people squeamish. This milk is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. Most people think that pasteurization makes milk "safe." I believe that pasteurization can make milk safer if production methods are unsanitary or cows are diseased. But I can see with my own eyes that the dairy at Pleroma Farm is clean and neat, that the cows are healthy and contented. The milk is regularly tested by the state, in addition. Homogenization is just unnecessary in my opinion.

Growing up, I thought any sour smell meant that the milk had gone bad. Now, I know that sour milk is just on its way to becoming something yummy like cottage cheese or yogurt. (Though since my childhood milk was pasteurized, sourness probably really was a sign that the milk was bad, since all the good bacteria and enzymes had been removed during processing.)

Part of this comes from my milk Little House obsession. Those books are full of recipes for making hard and soft cheese, butter, and many other unprocessed foods. The other part comes from learning about traditional foods and nutrition from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook and Dr. Thomas Cowan.

We've been getting 1 1/2 gallons of raw milk a week, but recently SillyBilly has had a string of colds and coughs, and we were swimming in extra milk. Since we certainly didn't want to waste any of it, I made homemade cottage cheese. The nice part of this is that it's easier to digest and you get lots of whey for Nourishing Traditions recipes.

*Set out raw milk in a clean bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let this sit for a day or so, depending on the temperature, until the milk smells nicely sour.

*Set the bowl of soured milk over a pan of water (to create a double-boiler) and gently heat the milk until the milk solids and whey separate. Don't boil the milk!

*Pour the curds and whey through cheesecloth, saving the whey in a canning jar. Gently squeeze the rest of the whey out of the curds in the cheesecloth. Rinse the curds in cold water and gently squeeze again.

*Put the curds into a clean bowl, mash or cut gently with a fork, and add cream for consistency and salt to taste.

Then I realized that because the milk is unhomogenized, there's at least a good inch of cream at the top of each milk container. I poured it off, set it out to sour, and whipped up some homemade butter. (In part inspired by a recent post by The Not Quite Crunchy Parent!) The butter came out amazingly yellow, thanks to the good pastures at the farm. There were several disasters along the way, including too much milk in the cream and sour milk all over the kitchen table and floor, but in the end we did make a little pat:

Update: I tried another round of cottage cheese, and this time it would..not..separate! I think the double-boiler rig I created just didn't work, or I got too impatient and turned the heat up too high. Ah well, another day of kitchen chemistry!