musings

New Year, New Device, New Habits

So, for Christmas, I received a tablet. It is lovely and fits my limited needs (surfing the web, a quick email or two). But I still use the laptop for some things (typing longer texts, the Garden Planner at kgi.org).
Now, that the New Year is 3 weeks old, I felt the need to get a little more organized and thought of installing a to-do app. As I understand it, To-Do apps are the “Hello World” of apps; meaning that every tutorial and book on how to program an app uses them as their example. Consequently, there are a LOT of these apps around. I chose HabitRPG without testing any others.
I had read about HabitRPG on the interwebs (definitely on Soup.io and maybe BoingBoing.net) and I felt it was worth a try because

a) it’s free
b) it caters to my delight in checking off lists and having proof that I’m doing stuff
c) the rewards are listed too, making it much easier to say “Oh, I was such a good Fritzi today! I definitely deserve an hour of mindless internet / a new skein of wool / a frivolity of my choosing.”

I like the fact that I can differentiate between New Habits I’d like to form, daily tasks (there is an option to specify which days of the week the task needs to be done), and a to-do list with one-off or rarely reoccurring tasks (deadline optional). A task can even be comprised of several sub-tasks (for example: I can break “clean kitchen” down into “do dishes”, “wipe surfaces”, “clean stove”, and “clean floor”, checking off each sub-task as I complete it). I can determine a task’s or habit’s difficulty and am rewarded or “punished” accordingly. I can make up my own rewards and specify how many of my earned points they will cost me.

There is a social aspect to HabitRPG as well: just as many bigger MMORPGs there are guilds and groups, quests and bosses, and an inn where players come to chat and hang out. So far the only social aspect I’ve tried are the “challenges”. Anybody can make up a challenge. I’ve joined one which puts all the tasks necessary for looking after my plants on my lists. My progress is shared with all those who have also joined this challenge and, I’m guessing, there is the possibility of sharing one’s experience via chat.

I’ve installed the mobile app on my tablet and occasionally use the website (just because I like it better for editing and adding tasks).

After two days of using HabitRPG I can not say much, but I can say that it has made me more focused on working down my to-do lists and even makes me look forward to doing certain things, just because I want to feel like I’ve really earned that second cup of coffee or evening of scrolling through soup.io.

Next on my app wish-list is the Unfuck your Habitat app… simply because their website and twitter are helpful and wonderful. Maybe I can find a way to combine UFYH with HabitRPG? Will see.

Confession at the end: I love to-do lists and will sometimes put “have shower” on one just for the joy of having something to cross off. And then there are the days where having had a shower is one of my small victories of the day.

The Great Project of 2013

Later this year we will move into a different apartment. A bigger one. One with a garden. I am looking forward to this garden for a host of reasons. One of them is the price of berries at the grocer’s. Another is the time I can spend outside without having to pack all kinds of stuff before heading outside. On the other hand I am worried that the garden will be too big and take up too much time. I worry that we’ll spend lots of money and time on it, only to have things turn to mush, shrivel, or turn out to be too difficult for us.

My plant list inlcudes:

  • strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants
  • a chamomile lawn
  • lavender, thyme, rosemary
  • some fruit trees (cherries, pears, plums, apples — preference in that order)
  • maybe a hardy kiwi
  • different kinds of mint
  • beans and peas
  • zucchini and eggplant
  • dahlia yams, now that I know they are edible

I’ve borrowed several books from the local library. We’ll see how it goes.

Illegal Immigration

So, the Associated Press drops ‘illegal’ from immigrant. Of course I post about it on FB. And someone links to this response and argues “If you steal something, you are labeled a thief — it doesn’t mean that’s all you are, but in relation to your action, you are a thief.” I like the analysis in the linked blogpost… but probably not for the reasons intended by its author.
The analysis in the article is accurate. And I think that is precisely the point. It is not an epistemological or ontological position. It is a stance based on the semiotics of the term. Calling someone illegal implies that their entire existence is and should be an affront to all decent human beings. I think that is exactly the mindset of those who defend the term tooth and nail. It is dehumanizing. The word ‘thief’ does not have that kind of negative association. Maybe we should start calling them ‘illegal obtainers’ instead.
As a side-note: I don’t think “politically correct” is a bad word. In my experience it is used as a negative by the same people who use “liberal” and “intellectual” as a derogatory term. Or whose regular vocabulary includes “feminazi”.

The Crazy Makes my Head Hurt — Updated

I picked up a pamphlet outside a hairdresser’s the other day. Finally got around to reading it and it is full of batshit-crazy conspiracy theories. Did you know, e.g. that Planned Parenthood is part of a eugenics conspiracy? That advocates of sex-ed programmes want to hypersexualize your kids so as to groom them for abuse? So much crazy in 6 very short articles made me write to the hairdresser’s to ask them why they had a holocaust-denier’s pamphlet next to their own brochures. No answer so far.

Note: I am not going to link or name the batshit-crazy publisher of the pamphlet, nor the hairdresser. Simply because I don’t think it’s a good idea.

UPDATE: the hairdresser answered saying that she always finds the articles in this publication interesting and that she thinks the publisher is being maligned because he dares to speak truths that the media ignores or hides. This answer is, of course, not what I was hoping for. I can understand her reasons but I don’t agree with them. She could be handing out pamphlets from Amnesty International or Reporters without Borders that also contain information that is relegated to the less prominent slots in traditional media… instead she chooses to hand out hateful propaganda by an unsavory character.

Morning Routines

There was a time when I would get up and, after washing my hands and face etc., make a cup of tea and check mail, read articles, check my Twitter timeline and plan my day. No more. Now I get up and attend to someone else’s needs, then I go to the bathroom, sometimes A plays with M and me in the bed before we all get up and make breakfast and tea and then I play with M until it’s time for a mid-morning nap that gives me enough time to empty the dishwasher and put a load of laundry to wash. Email, Twitter, the Guardian, the NYTimes, XKCD: all of that has to wait until I am nursing or M is distracted by a new toy (the lid of a jar, say).

Sometimes I miss being able to read 10 articles in one morning. Sometimes I end up nursing somewhere far away from the computer and the bookshelves. Sometimes M just won’t settle down for relaxed nursing or a mid-morning nap. That leads to me missing a lot of the Cyprus coverage. And the North Korea thing. Lots of news basically. Which is OK, I guess… but I feel kinda bad that I am really bad at having conversations about those things or anything grown-up and instead am good at having conversations about baby-related things. The unread and barely-read issues of Der Freitag piling up next to my bed are a constant reminder that I am not reading enough.

In conclusion: my belated New Year’s resolution is to read more non-baby things. Wish me luck.

What I read today

Because I barely have my arms to myself and am busy amusing a very small person I am not baking, cooking, writing or doing anything much that would interest anybody. But I can link to what I’ve been reading today… because I rather liked it.

Also: in my head I’ve been working on a pattern… and because I haven’t really written many patterns it is a mess. So it’s a good thing it’s only in my head.

The fricking thing crashed and has been offline for several months

This is what happens because I am not tech-literate enough and because life-things happen and suddenly I don’t have time like I used to.

But now the blog is back up and I can ramble and post pictures of knitting and food. Hurrah!
Anyway. What was I up to: I was pregnant and gave birth, I knit two ZZZ-jumpsuits, I tweeted, I went to Berlin twice, I went and visited my 90-year-old grandmother for the first time in several years and showed her the new baby, and I bought books that I haven’t had the time to read yet. Also I spent lots of time doing the wonderful, repetitive, exhausting and exhilarating things that you do when you’re a new parent.
I also got to contribute a post on the always wonderful Bitch Flicks website.

That said: it is way past my new bed-time and so I will post this now and go and crash.

Baking in May

This month I’ve been baking more than usual. A gluten-free cheesecake for Mother’s Day (my mother and sisters are all on a gluten-free diet), rhubarb (yay! rhubarb!) cupcakes with a meringue topping, apple crumble, and rhubarb crumble. Sadly everything was eaten so quickly that there was no time to take pictures.

The crumbles are pretty easy:

  1. cream 1Tbsp butter with 1Tbsp sugar
  2. add some rolled oats and flour
  3. let the machine stir that for a little
  4. does it look crumbly? no? add more flour (intermittently) until it does
  5. clean and chop up rhubarb or apple or pear and place in a deep oven-proof dish
  6. cover with crumbly butter-mix (add a little more butter on top if you feel decadent)
  7. bake in preheated oven at 175°C for about 20 minutes
  8. serve warm with ice cream

 

The cheesecake is a little tricky and takes a while… but it is very creamy and very heavy.
The recipe is from one of my grandmother’s friends, Sadie. This is easy to make gluten-free if you’ve got gluten-free cookies or are willing to make a crust entirely of chopped nuts and butter… which I’m sure is delicious (but I’m allergic to nuts).

  1. beat wel 1.5 lbs cream cheese with 1.5 cups of sugar
  2. add four eggs and beat well
  3. add 1 cup of sour cream (i substituted some mascarpone) and beat well
  4. add either vanilla, bay leaves and espresso, or grand manier
  5. for the crust crumble 200-250g of cookies (I used gluten-free chocolate chip cookies) and either 1Tbsp flour or chopped nuts (or even just corn starch) and mix with 80g (1 stick) soft butter
  6. spread the cookie-butter-mix on the bottom and sides of your spring form
  7. wrap the spring form in tin foil on the outside
  8. add cheese mix
  9. pour water onto a deeper baking pan and set spring form in water
  10. bake in preheated oven at 125°C – 150°C for two to three hours
  11. turn oven off and leave cake in the oven for about another hour
  12. let cool before serving

 

The rhubarb cupcakes are not very difficult. The yield is ~18 cupcakes.
Of course you can get all fancy with the meringue and use a pastry bag to give it a more attractive form than you might achieve with a simple spoon.

You’ll need: 250g rhubarb, 150g butter, 100g sugar, pinch of salt, 3 eggs, 200g flour, 50g corn starch, 3 tsp baking powder, 4Tbsp milk, 100g confectioner’s sugar

  1. preheat oven to 175°C
  2. clean, peel and cube rhubarb
  3. cream butter with sugar and salt
  4. separate the eggs and pour the yolks into the butter-mix
  5. combine flour and baking powder and slowly add to the butter mix
  6. add the milk to the butter-mix
  7. with a spoon or spatula mix in the rhubarb by hand
  8. add cupcake paper cups to muffin form and fill each about 2/3 with dough
  9. bake for about 20 minutes (less if your making mini-cupcakes)
  10. with a clean whisk vigorously beat egg whites until firm, slowly adding confectioner’s sugar towards the end
  11. take cupcakes out of oven, spoon a little egg-white onto each one
  12. bake for another 10 minutes or until the meringue has a good color.
  13. let cool before serving

I promise these all turned out fine the first time I tried them and they are great crowd pleasers, though you might want to reserve the warm crumble for evenings or cooler days.

I’ve been a Bad Poster

Not posting for several months: bad!

Baking rhubarb meringue cake and banana bread and not taking a picture to post it: bad!

Reading Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and not having anything to say about it: not so good.

Going to see Porgy and Bess on Broadway, liking it (a lot) but not writing anything about it: also not good.

Going to see Being Shakespeare at BAM, enjoying it immensely but not telling anybody about it: pathetic.

Visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden and not even mentioning it in a facebook post: sad.

So what have I been wasting my time on now? Well, I’ve been planning a garden I don’t yet have and going through garden catalogs dreaming of an impossible garden with all kinds of climate zones; I’ve been hanging out with friends and family; I’ve been moving from Darmstadt to Mainz to back home, only to go traveling for 3 weeks; I’ve been reading about the health care debate in the US and I’m not quite sure I understand it; I’ve been following the movement of academics boycotting certain publishers with great interest and have encouraged my sister to publish her doctoral thesis in an open access journal.

Books I’ve read since my last post:

  • Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett (re-read to get into the Christmas spirit)
  • Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman (good for a train-ride to Berlin)
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (while fighting jet-lag)
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (re-read when I had to ride the subway a lot)
  • Utopia, by Thomas More (as an e-book on an iPad)

In conclusion: I am a bad poster for actually doing, seeing, and thinking about stuff but not posting about it.

The New Domesticity and Privilege

In 2008, Steven Wells called into question the subversiveness of knitting and questioned the titles of Alter Nation and AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading, and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister. He eloquently argued that taking up a domestic chore and insisting you are doing it ironically, post-anything, or just tongue-in-cheek does not automatically make it radical, anti-anything, or even just non-controversial. He ended the two articles that I read (there may be more, I didn’t check) by listing people who had left their mark on the world and had notably not crocheted or knit their own bobble-hats, finally suggesting “If you need a hobby, take up spitting.”

Yesterday I read an article titled The New Domesticity: Fun, empowering, or a step back for American women? and a response arguing that yes, “New Domesticity” Is a Step Backwards for Women. I also followed the hashtag #newdomesticity on Twitter.

And now comes the confessional bit in which I tell you that I like to knit, bought books on ikebana as a child, love to bake, and don’t have a high-power job. I’m also going to tell you that I don’t like to clean or cook. Luckily, my husband loves to cook and therefore does all the cooking and grocery shopping. In exchange, I occasionally clean in a non-ironic, half-hearted way.

I understand what Steven Wells is saying. I also understand what Jamie Stiehm is saying. I’m also sure that Emily Matchar understands that making jam for the pleasure of it can quickly turn sour when it is your only option in life. Nevertheless I’m going to write my (slightly rambly) bit.

#

1. Maker Culture and Feeling in Control

The maker-culture is a broad and inclusive term that encompasses jam-making, bee-keeping, knitting, and tinkering. It includes the person who can fix their own bike, darn their own sock, build a shed, make a souffle, program a lego-robot, or knit a bobble-hat. It appeals to the idea of knowing what you’ve spent your time on because you’re holding it in your hand. It appeals to a mindfulness about our consumerism, by valuing repair-ability, re-usability, and recycle-ability. It also appeals to those mistrustful of large corporations and where they get their raw materials from. Buying locally, foraging, and making are interconnected. They all mean taking back control of who we give our money to and what exactly we’re getting for it.

Admittedly, for many it is enough to feel like they’ve taken back that control. They’ll sew new covers for their throw pillows, delighting in having made something themselves that no-one else has (with fabric bought at IKEA). These are the same kind of people who will drive to the organic supermarket in an SUV to buy organic pineapples that were flown half-way across the globe. They’ll buy a book on organic gardening and plan their little vegetable patch and decide that it’s just too much work.

But there are people out there who are taking their kitchen gardens seriously because for them it is a way to save money, control where their food comes from, and literally reap their rewards. Teachers have set up gardens as a way of teaching students discipline and the value of work. And they are not all female.
Also: the blogs on foraging, food preservation, and vegetable gardening on guardian.co.uk are written mainly(?) by men.

#

2. Fetish

2.1 Artisan, Hand-made

Hand-made chocolate, artisanal cookies and bread, hand-crafted jewelry, or even a home-cooked meal. These things evoke a sense of luxury and wholesomeness. This of course can lead to the fetishization of things that often require back-breaking labor and consume a lot of time. Terry Pratchett wrote in Monstrous Regiment “It was women’s work, and therefore monotonous, backbreaking, and social.” (He describes the job of washer women in particular.) There is a reason we have washing machines and dish-washers. Convenience food freed many people from having to slave away in their kitchens. There is nothing romantic about making preserves if it is the only way you’ll have food in Winter.

Nevertheless there also seems to be a psychological demand in our post-industrial societies for preserving “ancient” knowledge, as the Foxfire books, among others, show.

2.2 Women are Disproportionately part of a Movement that Fetishizes Domestic Making

Yes, it’s questionable when a lot of young women decide to go all Bree Van de Kamp, with a cookbook or a book on parenting being the only contribution to mankind they can imagine. Yes, it is worrying when otherwise intelligent people start saying things like “it just makes me feel so feminine,” “women’s work,” or even “it’s just something women /men are naturally good at.”

It is worrying when there is suddenly a growing market for paraphernalia that copies the look and feel of kitchens in the 1950s and 60s. When the era depicted in Mad Men is romanticized, despite the issues the show mentions. We know better. The educated women discussed in Matcher’s and Stiehm’s articles are all aware of their grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ struggle and the systematic and wide-spread medication of women who were unhappy despite “having it all”. Yet, I’d argue, just as female politicians occasionally pass legislature that harms or oppresses women, so too are other women free to submit to a domesticity that many others around the world would love to escape. I’d put the emphasis on the freedom of choice. A choice between working a 9-5 job or staying at home. This freedom is hard-won and needs to be preserved.

#

3. Working around the Patriarchy

Let’s consider this 9-5 job. A job in what one might call the real world and the real economy. A world of negotiating for a raise, glass ceilings, and getting ahead. A world where work-life balance is scoffed at. This is a world shaped and dominated by men. A world that women have fought to be a part of. And now, that they are a part of it, changes have been made. Wonderful changes, such as part-time jobs. So that women can live the work-life balance. Except it’s a scam. Accept a part-time job and you won’t get promoted, let alone rise to the ranks of upper management. More knowledgeable and informed persons have no doubt analyzed the systemic disadvantages women face in the workplace. I’m too lazy to google them right now.

I heard an inspiring story of two doctors sharing the position of Head of Gynecology at a Swiss hospital. They share the work-load and the salary and both have a family. I think that’s a fantastic way to work around the system. But doesn’t it sound predictable that this should be the gynecological department, instead of, say, the surgical one?

3.1 Alternative Economies

Something in Ms. Matchar’s article, reminded me of Pedro Almodovar’s Volver Then men in Almodovar’s movies are noticeably absent, disposable, weak, or bad. But my point is, in Volver, among many other things, the characters make use of a non-official economy comprised of the women in their neighborhood. One sister runs a hair-salon out of her apartment. The other suddenly finds herself with an unexpected catering job for a film crew, so she borrows food from her neighbors. She borrows the food because she has no capital to go buy large amounts of food (she has the keys to an unused restaurant because the owner is on vacation). She has no capital to buy large amounts of food because the only money most of the women have is in their husbands’ control. This alternative economy of the neighborhood women, by necessity, operates outside the patriarchy. It circumvents the normal channels of power, for example banks, and relies on the community and the skills of the individual.

There are alternative currency systems where people can barter a service (mowing a lawn) for points and exchange their collected points for another service (tutoring for their kid). These systems also circumvent the Man. They might not change the law or our education system, but they take back a little control.

Alternative economies express our true needs. Many important services and tasks are not valued in the “established” economy. How much is raising a kid worth? How much is a friendship worth? What about a neighbor who will look after your kids spontaneously and help you shovel the snow in front of your house? How about knowing what the chicken whose eggs you eat in the morning was fed and how it was treated?

Finding someone who keeps bees and exchanging a jar of honey for a jar of blackberry jam made from foraged blackberries cuts out the conglomerates that are selling us artificial honey and jam that is made of 5% real fruit. Basically, it cuts out the middle-man who, as one food-scandal after another shows us, is regularly selling us bad food or even non-food.

Finding a local herd of sheep and their humans (that sounds a lot more touchy-feely than intended but I’ll leave it like this) and buying wool from them that you then knit into a sweater for yourself or someone else frees you from wondering about toxins in the fabric or dye. It also frees you from wondering what kind of sweat shop it was made in. I don’t know how realistic it is to say that many people do this or exclusively wear clothes like this (“Hello, my name is Rain. I have my own kiln, and my skirt is made of wheat.“). But I can relate to the underlying thought process.

3.2 Alternative Bodies

I’d like to point out something else: knitting or sewing your own clothes, for some people, is also a way of owning clothes they feel good in. We all know the beauty and fashion industries are not always friends to women’s bodies. If the clothes you offer women are a big eff you to their bodies, do not be surprised when they decide to make their own clothes.

Similar line of thought regarding all these allergies and additives in cosmetics and soap. If everything you can buy either makes your baby break out in a rash or is just really expensive you are going to try and find out how to make your own baby-shampoo with stuff in your kitchen.

#

4. Privilege

A lot of what I read on Twitter regarding Matchar’s and Stiehm’s articles articulated one defining factor in this mass-exodus of bright, young women into domesticity: privilege. Not having to work for a living (for whatever reason) is one factor why a person might not want to be part of the work force. Feeling that women’ rights have come a long way and you don’t need to become head of the IMF or policy chief at the Pentagon can contribute to not wanting to participate in the rat-race. Not feeling marginalized also plays a big role in being complacent. I live outside the US and my cultural experience is slightly different; but I’d wager that women of color have their own, slightly different take on the New Domesticity compared to Matchar or Stiehm.

#

5. Buying things is easy. Making them is not. Time equals more than Money.

It’s almost Christmas. The time of year when we all collectively go “oh shit! I forgot to buy so-and-so a present!” and get on each others’ nerves by crowding malls and christmas markets. We try to buy each other the perfect gift when we can’t even think of something they might really need. In this case making something for a loved one means not just thinking of them and choosing something they might like, but taking the time to make it. Instead of spending money a person can spend time; especially in a world in which time itself is a commodity. Gathering your friends and family around to bake cookies, make decorations, sing, or read stories to each other is worth more than the money you planned on spending on them. Knitting a Vlad-the-Impaler bobble-hat for your niece can mean more than buying her some mass-produced doll.

At the end of this very rambly text I feel like saying: Everywoman can choose what domesticity means to her without being labelled anti-feminist. But what do I know?