Hello, Operator….

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My cell phone, at barely two years old, is starting to make “noises” of its impending demise. First, there have been the here-and-there turn-offs. Pick up the phone and there’s nothing but a black screen. Emergency measures include hitting the start/end button several times and, if not successful, an emergency battery-plasty. I think also the sound quality is going on it (or maybe I’m just getting old, too). I caught it downloading a “firmware update” that hijacked the phone for several hours until I cancelled it—so now my firmware is out-of-date, too. It’s only a matter of time, I guess.

I looked on my carrier’s Web site to shop a new phone. Only a few of the phones were what I, in my currently under-employed situation, would even remotely consider affordable. I think most of the people in my family have swqanky touch screens and get apps and their e-mail on their phones and all that so I’m already on an obsolete model. I went on Facebook once on my little dumb (non-smart) phone and about went blind just putting in my status: “I’m changing my status on my cool phone.” I never could see text messages on this stupid phone out in the sunlight, but I guess people are rarely out in actual sunlight so that’s hardly a consideration. It probably didn’t even come up in a focus group.

 In 1995, when my children were in elementary school, our microwave burned up one morning. My daughter had put her hotdog in there, hit the button, and all that was produced was an exceptionally impressive light show. It shut off, never again to cook. The kids were aghast. You WILL be bringing one home tonight when you get off work, right? They were completely flummoxed as to how we would manage to survive without it.

I pondered this state of affairs and summoned the audacity to arrive at home without a replacement model. Heck, I was a single mom at that point and didn’t have the bucks for an unscheduled microwave crap-out to begin with, but I thought I would use this situation to teach my children something about how to live without modern “conveniences.” We would live without the modern marvel microwave for 30 days.

Well, apparently I was the only one who considered it a convenience as opposed to a dire necessity. Self-sufficient breakfasters, they now had not the first idea how to make breakfast unless it was cold cereal (which they hated). This required a few handy lessons in using both the stovetop and the oven. Also avid snackers, they didn’t know how to warm up leftovers and forget about those boxes in the freezer that said, “Microwave Only.” My standpoint that it was food (sort of) and, once thawed, it could possibly be heated in some fashion with the technology on board as it had for millennia, was met with alternating pleas for the new microwave and deadened glares at my hopeless irresponsibility of making them do without. I was told unequivocally that we were not indeed living in the “olden days like you did.” By the time the 30 days were over, however, they could reluctantly heat stuff up and even make popcorn in a covered saucepan. Equally reluctantly, I followed through on my end of the deal and bought the new microwave.

So, now, as my cell phone lies dying, I wonder how many things I don’t know how to do because of it. I know I used to memorize vast listings of phone numbers, and the ones I didn’t know or needed to be community-accessible were on a very much annotated sheet of paper that hung inside the nearest cabinet door to the phone. I used to use the time in the car alone to ponder and muse and also maybe just empty my head. I used to have to sit still and possibly have a cup of tea if the phone reached (yes, this is going way back but no miles of snow trekked to school) to have a phone conversation with anyone. (And we won’t even discuss that I can remember the time of party lines!). I used to have to consult a human being or be resourceful enough to find a pay phone in a emergency. I used to walk over to a friend’s house; now she texts. In my newly formed research project, I have learned that people are now late more often and actually have fewer actual resources available to them because they rely on their cell phones. People even started talking faster when the first phones were introduced. Are we saying anything all that important really?

The saddest thing, though,  I’ve ever seen in my life was a family at Baker Park taking a walk around the lake. The mom was yakking away on her cell phone and so the rest of the family schlumped along silently alongside, looking more like servants or prisoners than husband and children. I once had a conversation with a young woman who averaged her texts each month in the tens of thousands, but who also was amazed that I was crocheting an afghan and asked how I could do that. Well, I guess I don’t spend all that time texting. And even though my current resume lists my cell number, I’m thinking about letting it go. A landline in the house came with the “bundle” for the internet. I hear Skype is pretty cool though I haven’t actually done it. And it would figure—the state where I live is hands-free (no hands-on cell phone use when driving) and I just got a Blue Tooth that broadcasts my calls on an empty FM band on my car stereo.

So, yes, I’m considering joining the dwindling ranks of those without a cell. This phone I have could last until 3:06 p.m. tomorrow or another six months, but I want to have a decision in place. I might just try and go “cold turkey” for a while to see what it would be like. Film at 11.

(I should probably also add that I don’t have a microwave now and don’t miss it.)

 

All of a Piece

Plain. Most people think of it as the opposite of fancy. Boring, ordinary. For me, Plain is my lifestyle.

It wasn’t always.

I fought it. I really did. For two years, I didn’t understand my reaction when I saw Plain women–Amish, Old Order Brethren, Mennonite, Conservative Quakers, among others. To say I was curious or even fascinated understates it. I was “plainly” riveted. I looked at photos online. I Googled and searched up lots of blogs and sites by and about Plain women. I read the pros AND the cons.  I read Quaker Jane and Magdalena and the Burrell’s. I bookmarked seamstresses who make Plain dresses. I learned that it’s not only an Anabaptist thing—but there are plain-called Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists—even Plain Atheists. For me, it became an obsession.

I just didn’t see myself there, though. I had had to wear dresses up until 6th grade because that’s what you did in the 60’s. You kneeled down and your skirt had to hit the floor or it was let out or passed along. I couldn’t wait to get out of them and, by 1970, jeans became my uniform because they were on the behinds of everyone I knew. And although I wore dresses more often than other women in my circle (because I had these sweet tiny ankles!) my jeans and t-shirts comprised my way of dress. Until Plain.

At first, I tried to compromise, gradually sifting and shifting all the stylish things and bright snazzy prints from my closet. Soon, I decided that, like Diane Keaton and Jamie Lee Curtis, I could limit my palette to black and white and maybe that would work. It did…but only for a while.

I bought yards of fabric and finally had dresses made when it was obvious that they weren’t going to get made otherwise. They hung in my closet for about year with me taking them out every now and again, putting them on to get my fix.  They were…in a word…frumpy. High collars, long skirts, long sleeves, lots of unsexy bulk-adding gathers, solid colors. I got aprons to wear with in black (for most wear) and white (for baking). I thought I looked horrible. Still, I didn’t—couldn’t—part with them.

Finally, when I could stand it no longer I put one on and went out in public. I was as anxious as if I’d walked out of my house strip-stark naked. I was certain everyone was staring and, quite possibly, snickering. And yet it was a force I was less and less able to resist. At long last a Plain dress went on me to work. It drew the expected “What’s with the get-up?” but by then I was ready.

What’s with my get-up is my testimony of simplicity and modesty. When you have 5 dresses in your closet and the only difference among them is the color, it’s incredibly easy to get dressed. I love that all my clothes were not made by oppressed women and children for pennies in a foreign country. Aprons are both practical and modest—they keep the dress clean while adding additional camouflage to the female form, which, trust me on this, ladies—it needs to be covered because NOBODY’s butt actually looks good in jeans. (Start looking with a critical eye–you’ll see what I mean. Just don’t be obvious about it.) When I went into Plain dress, I didn’t understand. I didn’t get how it would be the most calming and natural thing to have a Plain dress on. I didn’t know that others would think of me as kind, dependable and helpful. These are benefits, however–not the reason.

The reason is that I cannot do otherwise. The pain of not doing what God required eventually became more than I could bear. I am free to wear Plain. In the doing, I have found ways in which I am weak, willful and mostly lacking in trust in God and so can strive to understand Him better in these areas. I have found release from standing in front of the closet wondering who to be that day.

“Only be more consistent with yourselves. Let your dress be cheap as well as plain; otherwise you do but trifle with God, and me, and your own souls…. Be all of a piece, dressed from head to foot as persons professing godliness; professing to do every thing, small and great, with the single view of pleasing God.” –John Wesley

Even now, I have my “other” clothes that I might throw on from time to time, but I always ALWAYS come back and don my Plain things to feel like myself again. The tide has turned. Plain-ing has been a process and I have no doubt that those things in the box will finally move on when I can at last let them go.

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What I’m Reading Now

I’m going to let you peek into my library bag. Here’s an Amazon link and a bit about why I’m reading it:

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http://www.amazon.com/Girls-Gone-Mild-Reclaim-Self-respect/dp/B00136USH0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332244072&sr=1-2

Wendy Shallit’s answer to the TV series of similar name goes from Bratz dolls to examine sexual/social trends and the growing (and welcome!) counter-revolution. She reveals many, many ways that women and girls have been focusing on behaving like men in order to be equal instead of claiming femininity as empowerment.

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http://www.amazon.com/Return-Modesty-Discovering-Lost-Virtue/dp/0684863170/ref=pd_sim_b_1

From a review: In a nutshell, modesty brings out the best in everyone. Modest women, Shalit says, “live in a way that makes womanliness more a transcendent, implicit quality than a crude, explicit quality.” Womanliness enhanced by modesty becomes as intriguing as the Sphinx, in which a Mona Lisa smile far out-shines a silicone-enhanced D-cup.

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http://www.amazon.com/Female-Chauvinist-Pigs-Raunch-Culture/dp/0743284283/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332244186&sr=1-1

Ariel Levy explains how today’s society has elevated porn and “raunch” as an equation of female sexuality and how this trend has sidetracked the women’s movement, but more importantly has redefined women as sex objects, just of a different flavor.

And here’s a cartoon that someone posted on Facebook that got me into this subject:

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Rest in Peace

My father-in-law was found dead this week at the home of my husband’s brother with whom he had lived for the last year. Though he was in challenged health, this event was totally unexpected. When my brother-in-law came home from work, after a quick search, he found Woody motionless on the laundry room floor. The medical personnel suggested he had had a heart attack and “never knew what hit him.”

Death is a fearsome subject for most people. It’s one of our common bonds. We will all die, we’re told. The Grim Reaper is a scary specter.

One of the facets of this story that could make it tragic is that Woody had seemingly died alone. However, my mother who had been a nurse to the dying told story after story of the greetings offered by a dying person to the previously departed. “Mother, there you are.” Or “Here I am, Daddy.” Smiles on weak faces and hands outstretched to passed-on loved ones. These stories, while not universally shared, I think are universally encountered. Mary Baker Eddy spoke candidly of this: “In the vestibule through which we pass from one dream to another dream, or when we awake from earth’s sleep to the grand verities of Life, the departing may hear the glad welcome of those who have gone before. The ones departing may whisper this vision, name the face that smiles on them and the hand which beckons them, as one at Niagara, with eyes open only to that wonder, forgets all else and breathes aloud his rapture.” Just as we won’t enter this life without at least one other person with us, we don’t leave it alone, either. I think some are simply more showy about it.

Another more embedded belief about death is that it is the END. I saw an inspired teaching once in which the teacher had a five-gallon bucket and a hula-hoop as a visual. He put the hula-hoop upright into the top of the bucket. If you imagine the bucket as this material existence, and the hoop as your actual life, you can see that 1) it has no end, and 2) only a portion of it is inside the bucket. You might think of it linearly—as you travel the hoop, there is a time when you’re in the bucket and then when you are out of it. I prefer to think of it as an already-eternal existence some of which is in material form but most of which is not. Contrary to the popular adage, we are spiritual beings having a spiritual existence, in material form. (Gives a whole new meaning to ‘kick the bucket,’ no?)

Finally, probably the most frightening false belief about death is that it’s all powerful. We don’t know when, we don’t know where. Life could be snatched from you without notice or your permission. It’s irreversible and unstoppable. It’s capricious and final. Well, my bible says that “Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” To fear death as all-powerful and all-encompassing is to make it a false god in competition with God. We’re later told not to bow down to or serve false gods that we have made because God is a jealous God. Anything we put up next to God, even our ideas of evil and death, pale in comparison until they simply vanish.

While it is practical to make plans for one’s body that will remain after one’s transition, it is a complete affront to God to believe that death can separate you from Him, and through Him, his spirit children. Literally, there is no place else to go. The kingdom of heaven is within you and “at hand.” You can’t have more of heaven than you can right this moment, and the mortal idea of death just can’t mess that up. One pastor I knew described death as going from one room in a house (God’s house!) to another. Death, as Mrs. Eddy writes, is the passing from one dream to another or an awakening from sleep to life’s “grand verities.” Everyone’s had the experience of coming home from a trip and finding overwhelming comfort and familiar surroundings. What could be sad about that?

“Rest in Peace” is the message for the REST of us.

A Tale of Two Seas

You know those collections of photos people mail around—The World’s Greatest Buildings, the Most Amazing Landscapes or 13 Things to do with a Watermelon? Well, I recently got this photo in my e-mail.

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This is the meeting of the Baltic Sea with the North Sea at Skagen, Denmark. The waters of the Baltic are mostly fresh from a large land catch basin. The North Sea coming from the Danish Straits is more saline. It is this difference in density which creates the above phenomenon: the two bodies of water do not mix. Here it is on a map if you’re geographically-challenged like me.

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Pretty cool, huh? There is no visible barrier. The waves can be seen clashing into each other. It’s just as though they were two separate bodies of water. The actual physical barrier lies in a chemical difference in salinity called a halocline. Regional temperature variations sometimes allow some surface mixing but overall the seas are permanently separate. I don’t claim to understand all the chemistry involved as I only barely passed high school chemistry class.

I think what drew me to the photograph was its similarity—its demonstration of the idea that in life, densities don’t mix, either. If we can picture the North Sea as God, good, and the Baltic as my little trickle—we see that they don’t mix until we’re on the same density, wavelength, consciousness—whatever you want to call it. The Skagen halocline does get more permeable, however, when ambient temperatures equalize the salinity to a greater degree.

Imagine this continuum:

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Did you ever have one of those days when the dryer breaks, the kid goes ballistic, dinner burns on the stove, the dog eats the homework and…and….  I call this a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (after Judith’s Viorst’s children’s book), but you might just call it a crummy afternoon. If you were to attempt to be happy on such an afternoon, you couldn’t do it—even with all the affirmations and Post-it notes at your disposal. Your mental density is just too much to experience happiness. Here’s what’s going on in your head: “Oh, god, the dryer repair will be expensive and I’ll have to get somebody out here—what a hassle! Stupid dog! I wish Johnny would just shut up about it. Oh man! I just let our food burn—where’s the fire extinguisher!” Not a pretty sight.

But if you can lift thought just a teensy bit by becoming generally negative—as in “It’s been a rough afternoon. I don’t know what I’m going to do for dinner. The stupid dog needs to be fed. I’ll have to help Johnny re-do his homework,” then this lifts your thought from the specific to the more general on the negative side of the continuum. Still not a great afternoon, but a more manageable one then the nightmare above.

Then if you get make the teensy move over to generally positive: “Johnny will chill if he gets some dinner in him. We have to go out anyway to take the clothes somewhere to get dried. I’ll get to pick out something I really want to eat. This fool dog will take a nap anyway.” Now you’ve moved out of the negative into the positive scale.

“I love spending time with Johnny so we’ll go to his favorite place. I can get my favorite salad there and maybe we’ll treat ourselves to sundaes. Johnny’s handwriting wasn’t the best on that paper so he would have had to do it over anyway. On our way I’ll see if I can put the clothes in my friend’s dryer. She’ll give me a hug when I tell her my tale of woe and maybe she knows a dryer repair guy.” Now my consciousness, my awareness in thought has been lifted to experience the good. My “density” and the goodness of God equalize into blessings realized.