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Friday, September 05, 2008

An Examination of Conscience

I've been feeling rather guilty lately related to a number of reasons but primarily because I've been Wal-Mart. I also spent a Saturday morning at, sigh, IKEA. I felt like I needed a shower after each trip (which thankfully I can do now since our tub and shower are installed.) Me, the one who totally believes in buying local, subsidiarity, distributism, hauled four kids into a Super Wal-Mart for back to school supplies and housewares. I spent hundreds of dollars on a table at IKEA that was made in a communist country where Catholics are persecuted. And despite reading 'Omnivores Dilemma' and 'Crunchy Con' in the last month, I picked up a bag of Tyson chicken at the supermarket.
"Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It's been three weeks since my last confession. In that time I have bought a ton of crap in the name of convenience and/ or sloth. I knowingly made choices that went against Catholic social teachings in order to save a buck. My efforts to become a self sufficient agrarian did not happen the moment we bought this house so I am guilty of the sin of despair. And I've taken the Lord's name in vain, repeatedly, driving through traffic to get everywhere from our home in the boonies."

Here's what my walk on the dark side has taught me.
1. Having stuff requires buying more stuff to take care of and organize the stuff you have. For example: Having kids requires lots of stuff. And not only do you need to keep buying them new stuff, family members will also buy them tons of stuff you don' t want. As a bonus, you get to store lots of old stuff to pass onto your younger children.
2. Today's suburbs are not equipped to support buying local. You can't just walk down the street to your local butcher/baker/candlestick maker. You have to drive, and if you're like me you don't want to drive around to 4 different places for 4 things with 4 children. You wind up going to one place to buy them all.
3. It's takes time to do the research to shop conscientiously. I know what's bad about factory farmed food but where around here do I find the good stuff? Where can I find reasonably priced furniture not made by child labor? Until I can raise it or make it all myself I'm stuck buying if from someone. And up to now, I just haven't had the time to search out all the local farm stands, organic livestock ranches or dairy goat operations in South Jersey.
4. Quality is more expensive and paying more money is hard. Yeah, I know the arguments- "But if you cut back you can afford the better stuff." "If you get the good stuff you'll be healthier and make up the difference in how you feel and medical costs." Blah, blah, blah-organic milk is TWICE as much as the regular stuff; DOUBLE. My grocery bills are going up and you want me to pay double?! I'm a tyrant with the drinks in my house, we drink lots of water but we still consume tons of milk. And I'm supposed to pay double?! Double?! Sorry, I just can't.
And now, my act of contrition;
"O My God, I am most heartily sorry for all my sins; and I detest these purchases above all others because they displease Thee, Who are infinitely good and lovable and I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to do penance for them and never more spend money on goods that promote sloth, gluttony, envy and anger. Amen."

For my penance I will;
1. Get rid of more stuff through Freecycle or Goodwill. (More thoughts on stuff later too.)
2. and 3. Find one local merchant and purchase some of my groceries from him/her while out doing other errand (going to church, taking kids to appointments, etc.)
4. Work on price book so I know when the quality stuff is on sale so I'll be more likely to buy it.

Thanks for letting me come clean. I feel better already.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A tub and trendy values

I'm finally caught up on laundry, but only because my husbands turned off the water to the washer. I'm done with dishes for the night, but only because we ate dinner on paper plates. And now as I prepare to unwind for the evening, my husband informs me that he's just going to redo all the plumbing to the downstairs bathroom and washer. No big deal. This is the bathroom renovation project that never ends. With a lot of luck and even more prayers, we just might be able to bathe in a tub by the end of the week. But, that's what I thought last week before I realized the entire underside of our quaint clawfoot tub was rusted and had to be stripped, primed with two coats of Rust Bullet and painted with two coats of latex. And the drywall installation took a bit longer as well. Last time my husband and I owned a home we could make our own we were newlyweds with lots of time (aka no children) but little funds. Now, although not rich, we've saved up money for home repairs but we've got no free time and the minutes we eek out here and there are constantly sabotaged by these four. Notice the quality rusted seating.

Oh a lighter note, country living is all I hoped it'd be. Lots of fresh air and open space for the kids and lots of wildlife to explore; outside and inside our home. Like bats. If you've watched 'The Great Outdoors' with John Candy and Dan Akroyd you can imagine how last night went in my house. Ah, the thrill of nature.
Despite the setbacks and surprises I wouldn't change a thing. In fact let me use the tub and the bats to illustrate some points I've been pondering lately. (In my usual round about way. If this gets diluted forgive me as I'm still very sleep deprived.)
Lately, the media is all about living 'green' and lessening your carbon footprint. There is also plenty of press about trying to save money. And there is no shortage of books out there on downsizing, organizing and in general, simplifying your life. Three separate lifestyle goals, 'green' living, frugal living and simple living, all supposedly better than the usual disposable, materialistic consumer culture the majority strives for. If you chose one of these lifestyles and followed it to a T you'd be doing pretty good for yourself because any of the above three would be better than what the general public does. But individually, each is incomplete because none have Christian values at their base. Take the tub for example. We're doing the 'green' thing because we're recycling a tub that otherwise would've made it into a landfill. We're doing the frugal thing because fixing up an old tub is much cheaper than buying a new reproduction claw tub. But we're not doing the simple thing because a person who embraces simple living would've hired out this job weeks ago and turned over their credit card number to the contractor and the designer and gone off to Vegas to avoid the stress that comes with tearing up a bathroom. So there are times when a person who practices simple living will throw money at a problem; a common mainstream solution in a society that underestimates the value of hard work. Likewise, a 'green' person would throw in the towel if he/she realized it might harm the bats nesting in his/her attic and outsource the work to a pricey eco-friendly contractor. The frugal person might just charge ahead and used the most toxic materials available to restore the tub, the fumes of which could kill all the bats in a 10 mile radius, just because they're the cheapest.
As a Catholic I was to save money on the project but not at the cost of the natural resources, like the frugal person. But unlike the 'green' person the health and well being of bats is not more important than that of my family so I'm not going to turn my attic into a bat sanctuary. And while living simply, and eliminating clutter and stress from our lives is important, spending money and relying on disposable conveniences and unnecessary indulgences is the wrong way to do so.
Catholics protect the planet and its resources because they're a gift from God. We live simply because Christ lived simply and to keep out focus on heavenly reward not earthly possessions. We spend less to avoid debt, usury and because fewer expenses means we need less income, therefore more time can be spent with our families serving Christ rather than working for the man. I bet you didn't know being a Catholic worker could be so trendy.
Every so often Catholic ideas become popular; just not the part where Christ is involved. Without Him, they morph into quasi religions of their own, fanatics and all. (St. Al Gore anyone?) Don't settle for the values society hands us when your Catholic faith offers you that and so much more. Living your faith ensures a healthy environment, a little money in your pocket and a simpler life, even when your bathroom is torn up and you've got four kids.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Beginnings

It is with much joy, and much lack of sleep, that I announce major changes for The Next Worker. On June 27 at 315pm we closed on a beautiful old house in South Jersey with just over an acre of land. At 214am June 28, we welcomed into the world our fourth child and second son, Fulton Ambrose. God is so good.
The last six weeks have been a whirlwind to say the least. I feel guilty even blogging when there's so much that absolutely HAS to get done, including sleeping but any good writer undergoing such developments feels incomplete unless she can WRITE about them. Besides, I can't do more bragging to my friends and family; I need to move into the realm of strangers in which to share my joy.
I've got so many priorities right now I hardly know where to begin. I wind up starting several things but ultimately I wind up doing something trivial because the rest of it is so overwhelming. Just having a new child is one thing, having three other small children is another. Purchasing a fixer up is one thing, fixing it up with a newborn and three small kids is another. Preparing for another homeschooling year is one thing, trying to write up lesson plans with a newborn and a new house and did I mention the three other small children is starting to seem impossible. Oh, and did I mention I started a homeschooled girls field hockey team and I'm volunteering for our local homeschooling support group? Have you caught your breath yet? Because I'm still gasping for air.
But despite all this it is hard for my husband and I to not just want to jump headfirst into all the ideas I've hashed out on here; self sufficient living, the agrarian lifestyle. simplifying, etc. At least as much as such ideals are possible on an acre in Jersey. However, most people are living on less than an acre in suburban areas just like us. Our new homestead could hopefully serve as an example of how to put the Worker principles into action on a small, readily accessible scale...if we can ever get past this initial starting point (which includes tearing out our only full bath and relying on sponge baths for the last two weeks.)
So now The Next Worker is going to change course a bit. While passing along the wisdom of Day and the Worker movement is still central to what we're doing the blog will now focus on fulfilling these ideals and what concrete steps we're taking towards living this 'Worker' lifestyle we've imagined for ourselves. I always felt I couldn't live up to my expectations because of the situation we were in. Now that we've secured the house I'd been dreaming of, will we fall short of our goals, succeed beyond our wildest dreams or fall somewhere in between? Could we realize what we sought for so long isn't possible at all?
Now the rubber meets the road. We're off and running. Already our new situation has presented opportunities to help people anonymously, offer hospitality for groups of people and be on call, with a door always open, for friends in need. I think the biggest problem will be not setting our sights to high right away and getting discouraged when life (aka four kids, homeschooling, a full time job, etc) prevents us from doing what we want in a timely fashion, which means, right now!
For now, we need to finish the bathroom. Then there's minor cosmetic stuff inside we want to tackle like painting since this house is disgusting but there's several major projects we're having a hard time deciding between. And the yard! Heaven knows what we will find out there next but already we need to think of how to get it in order for next spring.
I'm hoping to work out my thoughts through posting and maybe, if we can fix our camera, start posting pictures. Eventually, I would love to have our own Path to Freedom type thing going but that's a few years down the road. Stay tuned! I'm happy to be back. And feel free to leave advice by way of personal messages or links. I'm always looking to learn more. I love new beginnings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Circumstances of our lives...cheerfully borne

"In a way of course taking care of your own, children and grandchildren, is taking care of your self. On the other hand there is the sacrament of duty as Father McSorley calls it. There is great joy in being on the job, doing good works, performing the works of mercy. But when you get right down to it, a work which is started personally often ends up by being paper work--writing letters, seeing visitors, speaking about the work while others do it. One can become a veritable Mrs. Jellyby, looking after the world and neglecting one's own who are struggling with poverty and hard work and leading, as such families with small children do these days, ascetic lives. There are vigils, involuntary ones, fasting, due to nausea of pregnancy for instance, but St. Angela of Foligno said that penances voluntarily undertaken are not half so meritorious as those imposed on us by the circumstances of our lives and cheerfully borne.

The christian life is certainly a paradox. The teaching of St. John of the Cross (which was for beginners, he said) is of the necessity for detachment from creatures; of the need of travelling light through the dark night.

Most of us have not the courage to set out on this path wholeheartedly, so God arranges it for us.

It would seem to the unthinking that mothers of children, whether of one or a dozen, are intensely preoccupied with creatures; their little ones, food, clothing, shelter, matters that are down to earth and grossly material such as dirty diapers, dishes, cooking, cramming baby mouths with food, etc. Women's bodies, heavy with children, dragged down by children, are a weight like a cross to be carried about. From morning until night they are preoccupied with cares but it is care for others, for the duties God has given them. It is a road once set out upon, from which there is no turning back. Every woman knows that feeling of not being able to escape, of the inevitability of her hour drawing ever nearer. This path of pain is woman's lot. It is her glory and her salvation. She must accept.

We try to escape, of course, either habitually or occasionally. But we never can. The point I want to make is that a woman can achieve the highest spirituality and union with God through her house and children, through doing her work which leaves her no time for thought of self, for consolation, for prayer, for reading, for what she might consider development. She is being led along the path of growth inevitably. But she needs to be told these things, instructed in these things, for her hope and endurance, so that she may use what prayer she can, to cry out in the darkness of the night.

Here is her mortification of the senses:

Her eyes are affronted by disorder, confusion, the sight of human ailments, and human functions. Her nose also; her ears tormented with discordant cries, her appetite failing often; her sense of touch in agony from fatigue and weakness.

Her interior senses are also mortified. She is alone with her little ones, her interest adapted to theirs; she has not even the companionship of books. She has no longer the gay companions of her youth (their nerves can't stand it). So she has solitude, and a silence from the sounds she'd like to hear, conversation, music, discussion.

Of course there are consolations and joys. Babies and small children are pure beauty, love, joy--the truest in this world. But the thorns are there of night watches, of illnesses, of infant perversities and contrariness. There are glimpses of heaven and hell."

On Pilgrimage, January, Dorothy Day

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A new perspective. A new hope.

Hello everyone. Hopefully this post finds you all well and assures you that I am not dead and still doing good. I have not felt the pull to write until recently though, I can't be sure I'll resume blogging full time.
We have not yet found our homestead and recently decided to stop looking. I'm about 3 months out from having our fourth child, and second son, and since the whole house search has been so disastrous, we've decided to stay put until after he arrives. The ongoing saga for a home has consumed us for the last few months as we felt confidant the Lord would provide us with a home before the baby came. I can't even tell you how much more money and time we sunk into this search only to have our hopes crushed. I think it's finally clear; we're not to move right now. I've been reading 'The Imitation of Christ' and in addition to just feeling bad about our situation, I feel bad about feeling bad instead of offering it all up and thanking the Lord for this opportunity to suffer. Slowly, a feeling of hope is arising as I know that some good will come out of this as it always has in the past or I'm knocking some time off purgatory so long as I can not be a whiny wuss about it all.
After talking with a priest friend this past weekend, I'm trying to focus on the good things God has given us right now and how I can utilize those gifts for His ends. Of course I still have lofty goals of homesteading and service to the poor but the homestead has not appeared nor has the free time to run off to Camden. And it stinks having my husband's hard earned salary sitting as devaluing American dollars in a bank account instead of invested in crops, animals, tools and say, 50lb bags of rice and grain. In an apartment, we are at the mercy of the stores and the landlord.
But, I have three wonderful children, with a healthy fourth on the way. I'm surviving the homeschool day. My marriage is great. We have a great traditional parish with lots of friends who share our strong Catholic beliefs. Our kids are constantly busy with other Catholic, homeschooled kids. My husbands job is secure, we're saving money and we do have a nice roof over our heads. If I wasn't aware of Catholic Worker ideals, distributism, simple, agrarian values, etc. I would have no room to complain. (I still shouldn't.)
My husband and I are always planning and actively working towards our goals. The thought of 'sitting still' and just letting the chips fall for the next few months is nerve wracking but I have to assume at this point that what ever God has in store for us, outside the wonderful life he's already provided us with, will have to come in His time by His means. No amount of frantic searching on our part can speed along God's plan.
So what does it all mean for this 'Next Worker'? I'm not sure. I never wanted to be all talk and no action on Worker principals, which is how I feel. But I need to see the opportunities to 'feed the hungry and clothe the naked' in my own home. (Lord knows there's always hungry and naked people here.) My own children are no less important that children in Camden or Africa or anywhere. If this is where God wants me, then I can't assume my actions mean less than a Worker at Mary House in NYC.
So maybe I'm not the 'Next Worker' at all. Maybe, I've been Working all along and didn't know it. We'll see how it all plays out and how this new viewpoint effects my writing. The family as Workers; who knows?