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Archive for February, 2012

What JVs actually do

Perhaps you’ve seen those “what I think I do” memes popping up on facebook lately. I thought I’d get in on the fun.

Alternatives for the last frame were drinking, knitting, and composting. But given the freak blizzard we had this afternoon, I thought the last one was most apropos.

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The Litany of the Workers

For those who built this sacred ground, we pray.

For the workers who molded the bricks out of clay, laid each down by hand, one after another, after another. For the callouses that formed on their hands while they they spread the mortar, one day after another.

For the trees that laid down their life to become pews and pillars, to uphold after they have fallen down. For the birds who were once nested in their branches and for the forest animals whose bodies nourished the roots after their time was done.

For the artists who stained the glass with great care, and for the patient assistants who sweeped up the shards of their mistakes.

For those who worked masterpieces from the wood, intricate carvings and detailed sculptings. For those who painted the columns to mimic the marble in the cathedrals of Europe, knowing it would never be the same and trying none the less.

For those who who dug the stones out of the quary. The one who fell and broke his arm on the job, never to work again.

For the nuns whose long dark habits were covered in flour as they kneaded and kneaded and kneaded the bread into new life. For the farmer whose nose got sunburnt while he harvested the wheat, and for his grandaughter thrilled at her first trip out on the tractor.

For the stings on the hands of the beekeepers, who crafted the candles and lit the dark corridor aglow.

For the florist who wakes up early each week to finish the arrangements, making sure every detail was exactly right, knowing no one would notice and caring none the less.

For the woman who dug the beets out of the earth to create the perfect dye for the vestments, whose fingertips carried the signs of her work for weeks.

For the horses who carried the luggage across the country, fine paintings and golden chalises, and for his driver who never once complained when he had to stop to change his shoe. For the streams they stopped beside and the woven blankets which kept them warm.

For the miner who dug the coal to light the room when the beekeeper was no longer needed. For the long and dirty days in the mine where he suffered, died, and was buried.

For the light in the eyes of the couple who recited those promises on the same steps where their parents and their grandparents had stood before. For the mother who stayed up late the night before to finish working on the veil, and the teenage girl at the cafe who brewewd the cup of coffee needed to make this morning possible.

For the shoulders upon which the coffins have rested, and the shoulders upon which the weight remains, who have borne their load out of the doors and into the world.

For the woman who remembers to dust behind the radiators and pretends not to notice the homeless man who snuck in for a warm place to sober up.

For the vineyardist who would have cursed where his wine was going had he known, for he hasn’t forgotten the sting of the hurtful words spoke to him in a place not unlike this one, not long ago.

For the tears shed and for the elbows which found their way into their sisters sides, for the pages ripped out of the hymnals by impatient toddlers. For the cheerios spilled and the tired parents who pick them up.

For the pianist who stayed up late, night after night, trying to find a better way to rework that tricky bridge, and for her neighbor, who stayed up night after night as well.

For those who have wept here, slept here, prayed here, left here, shared here, and loved here, we pray.

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This is all Iran’s fault.

You see, I read the news a lot and I also watch Downton Abbey a lot. I’m also bored a lot of the time since my boss thinks editing an Excel spread sheet is good for about 3 days worth of work to do and my classes tend to be a little, um, easy. Well, except this year I finally get around to taking Introduction to Epidemiology, and WTF it turns out to be “hard” and require “real work.” Are you sitting there thinking “aren’t you working on a thesis and trying to get published too or something?” And to that I say, “don’t remind me.”

The combination of these three things – News, Downton Abbey, and Boredom, have resulted in me becoming convinced that Iran and Israel are about to start World War III and I will be left to feed our family on bread made from home made grain and the milk that comes from our goat. We don’t have a goat, but in this scenario we do.

This weekend our toilet broke. Not “oh just plunge it” or “turn off the water and reconnect that little chain thing” broke, thankyouverymuch, but wouldn’t fill up with water and according to google needed a new part broke. Luckily we were house sitting this weekend for a couple who has four working toilets. Remember, we are pauper students who have one, a fact that the Res Life center was wholly unconcerned about and kept insisting it was a holiday weekend and there was absolutely no way to get a plumber to our apartment. Now I realize normal human beings only use a toilet once every 72 hours (at least according to Res Life), but me having a chronic bladder disorder and all, I do not like to be apart from one at all if I can help it. I understand, of course, I would hate to rip someone away from their family’s President’s Day celebration, singing carols about Jefferson and Monroe and what not. Oh wait, I think they only do that at William and Mary…

So we spent the weekend over at the house we were sitting. At which I became bored, and decided I should learn to make cottage cheese. Again, to you who say “don’t you have stuff to do?” I say “blasphemers! All of you!”

And so I headed over to the nearest grocery store to buy some milk. The grocery store, which I am sure you are all aware of as it was immortalized in the song, “Apology Song” by the Decemberists, is the Orange Street Food Farm.  And the Food Farm has one magic corner known as the “cheap shelf.” While most of the products in the store are pretty mundane, there are always incredibly odd and discounted foods on the cheap shelf, ranging from Halva, a sesame candy, to pear juice. This trip, people were congregating and talking in front of the cheap shelf, a mortal sin to most who live in this town. Etiquette is that three, perhaps four at most, stand silently in front of the shelf, searching for that One Great Deal, taking care to not another’s view.

Whilst trying to peer around the chatty woman and her food cart (double sin), I spied it.

If you ever fly Delta and choose “peanuts” or “pretzels,” excuse me, but you are an idiot. Because the Biscoff cookies are really the choice of champions. Buttery, crunchy, flavorful – I love them. And here was a spread made of that very same foodstuff. It was like Nutella for people who can’t eat chocolate or hazelnuts. It was magic; I had never even dreamed of such a concoction!

I turned over to look at the ingredients and was not deterred by two simple words that usually leave me dropping a food in horror and swearing at the world: citric acid.  See, citric acid is not the friend of someone on a low-acid diet. But I reasoned it away, and gladly spread a few spoonfuls onto a baguette.

By the way I made the cottage cheese, and it tasted and looked more like mozzarella. Oops. Domestic fail.

Fast forward to that evening. We reasoned that our toilet works, kinda sorta enough, if you don’t flush the toilet paper and fill up the back of the tank with water. So we went home, watched Downton Abbey, and attempted to fall asleep.

Let me tell you something. I went to the bathroom somewhere around twenty times that night.

You know how people say, “Oh gosh, I ran like a hundred miles” or “I read a million pages for class tomorrow,” and they don’t really mean what they say? I mean this. I went to the bathroom about twenty times that night. I stopped counting, granted. But when you go to the bathroom about five minutes after you lay down on the bed for somewhere around 3 to 4 hours, you’ve hit the 20 mark. Trust me. There have been times where I have contemplated sleeping on a toilet. (There was actually a time in JVC where I slept in the bathroom. I fainted off the toilet and wound up with an IV drip. Oops.)

Long story short, if there Iran does ever get the bomb, I’m screwed.

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The internet and I

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my internet consumption.  For the two years I lived in JVC, I had very sparse access to the internet at home, and my first year at work as well. The first several months of JVC I would only check my e-mail about once a week. My second year I could get it in the house if I stood in one corner of the kitchen, until our neighbors got smart and put a password on their wi-fi. And the crazy thing was, I didn’t mind it in the least. Granted, I would have big long boring stretches at work where I could mindlessly troll the internet, but I actually enjoyed unplugging when I got home. Sure we would plop in front of NBC for the next few hours, but we would also bake, cook, go for walks, talk, knit, draw, play  games. I liked it. Part of the change of course is that I’ve gone from 7 to 4 to 3 to 1 roomates, but when I didn’t have internet, I didn’t miss it. Same with TV – I only had a TV one year in college and I don’t ever remember being bored.

But last year we got internet and I re-started this blog. Which led me to other bloggers who link to others who write about all sorts of fabulous time sucks like twitter, pinterest, facebook forums, etc. At first I rationalized it by saying I was making up for lost time without internet for two years. But it’s really become something of a habit for me. Whenever I’m bored or have some downtime, I check facebook. When I need a break from work, I check twitter. Or Huffington Post. Or other mindless websitses and before you know it, it’s 30 minutes later.

I downloaded an application on my computers last week called Rescue Time which charts the productivity of your work:

To be fair to me, that’s both my home and work computer, so not all of it is time distracted from actual work. Plus I don’t do all my work at a computer (like grading papers or being in class which accounts for the huge dip in time on Wednesday), and those don’t get counted in my productivity. But still. That’s a lot of red. The thought that I spent 2+ hours yesterday on things like facebook and twitter makes me kinda sick.

I couldn’t fall asleep last night – my mind was going a hundred miles an hour and mainly over  a comment I saw somewhere on the internet. And I realized, this really isn’t good for me. Sure twitter is fascinating – I love being able to see what people from all over say in response to big news events like the State of the Union or death of Osama Bin Laden. Some people on twitter are hilarious (I recommend following Steve Martin if you are so inclined). But for the most part its just people saying comments that make me mad or linking me to other news and fauxnews articles I don’t really need to read. It’s actually a little embarrassing to admit how much time I waste online, but I trust that anyone who is reading this is probably also wasting some online time this very moment and thus can relate.

So, even though it’s a little sad, I’m gonna de-activate my twitter account and block facebook on my work computer. I’m going to keep blogging, and while I realize this will hurt my “following,” the truth is that’s not what’s important here. I know that I will still waste time; that’s inevitable. The tough part will be days where I can’t do much except sit on the couch in pain since I have been using the internet to distract myself. But it doesn’t make me happier.

I hope you still swing by.

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I’ve given myself a few days to cool off before I write about this issue, because on Sunday I was fuming over it. The problem is, I’m pretty mad at both parties over it. Who can tell me what to do with my body? Who can tell my Church what they can do?

Let’s back up. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control, artificial birth control such as condoms, contraceptive pills, etc. are considered immoral because they take the act of sex from being unitive and procreative to solely unitive. Since contraception discounts half the purpose of the act, it isn’t doing what it was meant to do. Now it doesn’t have to be procreative – it’s still OK to have sex when you wouldn’t get pregnant, i.e., not ovulating, infertile, post-menopausal. Additionally, it’s OK to use contraception for medically necessary purposes, that is taking the pill for painful periods or endometriosis, or using a condom to not give your partner HIV.

As I’m sure you all have guessed, seeing as how I’m Catholic and married for 1.5 years and have yet to pop a baby out, I’m on the pill. (Shock! Awe! Fainting! The smelling salts, please!) I know I usually only write about my bladder problems, but those are just the tip of the iceberg and some of the other issues I have mean birth control means my life is a whole lot easier. Discussion closed, please refrain from commenting on it.

Additionally, I have issues with how the Church came to the conclusion that birth control is immoral. The thought behind sexual ethics has evolved over time. Not to bore you but the gist of it is that Aquinas philosophy used to think sex was only procreative, even the rhythm method used to be banned, and the committee formed by the Vatican to assess the morality of the pill deemed that it did not go against Catholic teaching (source). Humanae Vitae, the letter which banned the pill for Catholics, was largely away to slow down the rapid progression of the Church which was becoming much more liberal.

The funny thing is though, even though I disagree with these interpretations of Catholic teaching, I don’t think I’d be using the pill if I didn’t have to. Not because of “scary side effects” that are pretty much common with any prescription, but because I appreciate my body and what it can do and don’t like the idea of artificially altering it. But I don’t think that using the pill means that sex is closed to the possibility of life either.

Back to the controversy.

Recently, Pres. Obama’s administration has required that all employers cover contraceptive medicines and procedures (not abortion though) under their insurance plans.  While this plan did include a religious exemption, it was limited to organizations whose primary purpose was faith instruction and primarily hires members of its own faith. That is, actual churches. The Catholic Church though is huge and has many organizations – universities and charities, that anyone can work for. The Catholic Church feels that this requirement to cover birth control violates their religious freedom. While the government’s response is that this mandate doesn’t require anyone to use it, the Catholic Church feels that allowing it is still going against God’s will.

Here’s why I’m conflicted.

Like I said, I need to be on birth control and it hurts that my Church wouldn’t want to support my health care needs. Now some people have said that they would still cover medically necessary contraception, I have yet to hear anything from the Church to support that claim. It’s not a sin for me to be on the pill, but this stance still leaves me feeling like a second class citizen, that I’m still not good enough, that they don’t care about the pain I’m going through. Okay, I realize that sounds dramatic, but it nevertheless hurts to feel that the Church things that they don’t have to be concerned with people who have problems like yours.

I don’t like the precedence this creates. While the Church doesn’t generally see contraception as “health care,” the rest of the medical world does.  So if they have the right to decide what kind of health care to cover, what other decisions can they make? They don’t need to cover pre-natal care for single moms? AIDS medicine for homosexuals? While I don’t think they would take it that far, the equation of health care and morality is troubling.

On the other hand…

While I disagree with how the teaching is interpreted by the Church, I agree with the philosophy behind it and respect it. It makes me uncomfortable with how this teaching is generally viewed by the rest of the world. It’s not necessarily backwards and oppressive, although it does ask for a tremendous sacrifice from women. I’m sure you have heard over the last few days that the vast majority of sexually active Catholics attempting to avoid pregnancy use birth control. But I don’t think that’s a reason to ignore the teaching. If the majority of Jews don’t observe the sabbath, can a federal employee still be forced to work on the Sabbath? Does overall adherence really determine the degree to which we respect religious freedom? Again, I feel this is a disturbing precedence. On a more political level, I feel this is a poor move of the Obama campaign, which had a chance at bringing more Catholics back to their traditional Democratic roots, especially those disgusted by Gingrich and Romney’s uncaring attitude to the poor.

The truth is, I don’t think that God will hold a Catholic paying into an insurance policy ultimately responsible for any babies that are unborn. And I don’t think that if I have to end up paying for my own birth control it will break the bank. If need be, I can always go to Planned Parenthood to get it for free (Shock! Awe! Fainting some more!). But I’m still disappointed. I’m disappointed the White House has treated the Church so flippantly, and I’m disappointed the Bishop here threatened to drop health care coverage for all employees in the Diocese if forced to cover birth control. I’m supremely disappointed that people at mass on Sunday clapped and cheered for that announcement.

I don’t know where to stand. It’s an issue that has been handled poorly by both sides. Yes, there are costs more expensive than birth control but there are also many worse infringes on religious freedom in the world. So let’s all take a big step back, a deep breath, and realize this is not the end of the world.

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Sex, Nuns, and Football

I like to put a damper on exciting things, so while I’m just as pumped as anyone (okay, decidedly less pumped than anyone in the Northeast) to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, I want to talk about a real problem with our nation’s favorite sporting event.

And it’s not concussions. It’s sex trafficking.

I didn’t know anything about sex trafficking until a few years ago when I watched an absolutely amazing movie called Trade. I can’t recommend it enough, even though it’s incredibly heavy and heartbreaking.  You can see for yourself:

The most striking thing about the film is that it brings sex trafficking home. Because while we would like to think of it as a far off problem affecting only places like Taiwan, Haiti or Mexico, the reality is that the US estimates there are 10,000 sex trafficking victims in this country. Some estimates are higher. Miami police estimated that in 2010 there was as many as 10,000 prostitutes from outside the area for the Super Bowl, considered one of the largest sex trafficking events in the country and possibly the world.

I can’t think about it without tearing up. Women, men, boys, girls being brought as an extra sideshow, extra entertainment.

If you think back to Econ 101, most every business operates on a simple premise: increase supply to meet the demand. So what do we need to do to stop sex trafficking? We need to stop the demand.

That’s not what we’ve been doing. According to a 2005 bill in Congress:

According to recent studies –

  • a) 11 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Boston for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • b) 9 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Chicago for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • c) 6 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in New York City for every arrest of a male purchaser.

There’s something not right here. And Indiana has been rushing through the legislator bills to crack down on sex trafficking. But what can we, as people probably not engaged in the sex trade or law enforcement do to stop the demand?

A group of Catholic nuns has reached out to local hotels training and educating them on how to recognize and prevent sex trafficking. 200 hotels in a 50 mile radius of the city have agreed to or had participated in training or receiving information on local safe houses and help lines. The nuns have enlisted local congregations to pray and take action for those engaged in sex trafficking.

The problem of sex trafficking is large and complicated. It’s not just evil men in back alleys, it’s a world where families are so impoverished selling oneself is sometimes the only option. It’s a culture that turns a blind eye to sex crimes, or even glamorizes it. We can think it’s not our culture all we want, but I go to a school that ignored rapes on campus. We hear about the Penn State scandal every day. Big scandals aside, we watch sexist TV commercials and laugh and them like they are funny. But there’s nothing funny about treating women like they are less than what God created them to be. There’s nothing okay about a culture that refuses to stop the demand.

I can’t rush in to Indianapolis and save everyone, as much as I would like to. But I can be a person who respects life, respects human dignity, and respects sex. I wish I knew how to take a bigger stand than just yelling at the internet. But I can tell you this, when I’m cheering on the Giants (or Patriots? Have we decided yet, John?) on Sunday, I’m going to be cheering on those nuns, and men and women all over the world who are taking a stand against sex trafficking.

Even if it’s just a small voice saying this needs to stop.

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Peanut Butter

If you’ve been one of the 14 roommates I’ve had in the last 6 years, you might have noticed that I tend to eat a lot of peanut butter.

I’m sure you’ve all dipped a spoon into peanut butter at some point in your life, perhaps sprinkled a few chocolate chips on top when you are feeling extra decadent, but I take this to new levels.

While this has been a habit of mine for a while, it started in earnest my second year of JVC. My house was incredibly dysfunctional and community dinners were solemn, awkward affair. Nothing can kill your appetite like stone cold silence.* I take that back, undercooked split peas can be pretty unappetizing as well. We were not fantastic cooks, probably mainly due to the fact that we begrudged every moment in the kitchen and just wanted to get the heck out of there. It was supplemented by our low budget and lack of group cooking experience.

So I left the table hungry most nights. I have the metabolism of a twelve year old boy (don’t hate me) and am usually hungry again within an hour of dinner. Which is a problem in JVC, because $14 a week doesn’t go very far if you start buying midnight snacks. Thus, the peanut butter spoon. A nice little protein shot right before bed and I could fall asleep like a baby. If not, my stomach would gurgle until I relented and fed it. I blame that on my college roommate who once commented on how she could never fall asleep while hungry. I haven’t been able to either since. Hope that doesn’t happen to you.

There is something about trying to go to bed that makes me hungry. My theory is that lying down makes my stomach stretch out and feel empty. But no matter what, virtually every night I get hungry around bed time and end up satiating my appetite with a peanut butter spoon.

This has been to the dismay of at least two out of those 14 roommates who have noted that peanut butter is not easy to get off of silverware. Especially when you don’t have one of those new fangled “dishwashers” I keep hearing so much about.

I love my peanut butter spoons. They are filling, probably incredibly bad for me, and I think trigger my brain to fall asleep. The funny thing is I don’t really eat peanut butter in many other forms (although PB in saltine sandwiches is heaven sent). Without jelly, a peanut butter sandwich is far from wonderful. But even so, we can go through a jar of peanut butter embarassingly quick.

So here’s to peanut butter. Wonderful peanut butter and the many sleep-filled nights because of it.

*Note to anyone considering JVC: usually it’s awesome. Or hard, but awesome. Our house will go down in the records of “worst house ever,” being beaten out by a house where someone moved into the unfinished basement and stopped talking to everyone and one where half the house changed the locks on the other house. If you’re still scared, I met my husband in my fist community. And that didn’t suck.

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