May a Curse Fall Upon The House of Pottery Barn: Trying to Want Less

January 14, 2007

I wrote this a long time ago and left it in my drafts folder. It is a good time to revive it given that I have gone the first 13 days of the new year with no clothing purchases, even after walking through and H&M AND a Target. Between now and the start of classes in a few weeks, I will be cleaning out the closets (er, I mean the basement piled high with boxes of useless stuff) and working on my resolution to get less, want less.

I’m sure others out there must have a love/hate relationship with the Pottery Barn catalog that comes to your house with all sorts of adorable furniture and trinkets and wooden tables and perfect looking homes that look NOTHING like my home. If it is not Pottery Barn, I bet a lot of you have some sort of magazine that comes to your house that you love, yet hate. J. Crew? Car World? Book of the Month Club?

One of the things that Elaine St. James, simplicity guru, suggests is that you cancel magazine subscriptions because it just makes you feel inadequate. Partialy true. Yet, I also love looking at magazines (subscriptions and shopping ones).

In the Pottery Barn magazine, there are no piles of misc. stuff in the corner. There is not cat hair covering every imaginable surface. There are not the shelves from IKEA that your husband LOVES and that make the living room look sort of like a Sweedish utility closet. No dirty towels, cat throw-up, or accumulated dishes. I know, I know. Pottery Barn is not real, Elizabeth, just like the women in the magazines with the flat stomachs and airbrushed faces are not real. But that does not seem to matter to my little psyche that longs for a Pottery Barn world in my own apartment, yet at the same time knows that I am being tricked by The Man who makes lots of money off of poor little graduate students longing for the organized world of oak shelves with matching baskets and beautifully placed picture frames.

Be it resolved that I will appreciate my lovely Pottery Barn magazines, but never ever even consider buying something so amazingly overpriced and just enjoy the decorating ideas and remind myself that no normal person’s house should look like a Pottery Barn magazine. Just like I regularly resolve to remind myself that there is SUPPOSED to be a bump on my stomach and it is not supposed to be flat like the women in magazines who do not eat enough and exercize too much.


Labels and an Update

January 13, 2007

Hmm. Well. I started trying to label my posts and right away I realized that my blogging cousin Lydia who suggested I switch to Word Press might be right. The labels are all messed up – something seems confused on Google’s end. Grrr. Because I know how all my readers are just DYING for the posts to have labels, right?

On a personal note, rough draft of thesis on the sexual purity movement in evangelical Christianity has been turned in. I hope to blog on this soon. AND paper on fundamentalists megachurches has been turn in. Time to get back into the swing of things at church (I missed three weeks while in Germany, but if feels like much longer!) and clean up our apartment, my the ongoing goal of my life.

Exciting stuff coming up at FUUSM – spring adult education where I will get to teach a four week course on liberation theologies. I’m so excited. And we will have a blessing of the animals in April. How fun!

Now to try to fix labels. Oh, and the Annual UU Blog Awards are coming up soon. My first year to be able to enter! Oh, how exciting! In case you didn’t see it, this little blog ranked a whopping #27 in terms of blogs visited from UUpdates, the UU blog aggregator. Exciting stuff!

Volunteer in Nicaragua

January 11, 2007

I spent the summer of 2005 working at an elementary school in Nicaragua. I lived next door to the principal of the school with the nicest family ever. The school would LOVE to have another volunteer or string of volunteer teachers. I taught reading to students who needed extra help, but what you would do is very flexible.

If you or someone you know has thought about working/volunteering abroad, consider being in touch with me and I would really like to help arrange something in Nicaragua – two weeks minimum, ideally a month or more. This is a great alternative to paying some organization to arrange a job/housing.

The cost involves a small donation to the school (flexible $100-$200ish), $50-$60/week room and board, and your plane ticket. The school is especially interested in someone who can teach dance or something else artsy, as they certainly cannot afford teachers to do this and the children love it.

There is also the opportunity (for small fees) to take dance lessons in traditional Nicaraguan dance, Nicaraguan cooking lessons, to get sewing lessons, or Spanish lessons. There is also the possibility to work with a domestic violence prevention program, or to design some other creative or flexible option via the connections I have and through friends of friends. I am visiting in March and will make most arrangements then, but all involved people have email and things can also be arranged that way.

You do not need to speak Spanish – but must get some basics before you go and be willing to learn on the job. My Spanish was very average/basic and it still went great. I learned so much and found the people to be so kind and flexible. This is most ideal for someone who is very flexible and doesn’t need a parent-like organization to support them through the travels. I did not find safety to be a problem – basic precautions do the trick. Please email if you are interested, or would like to discuss more, and feel free to share with folks you think might be interested. I will want to check two references just to make sure I don’t hook my host family and the school up with someone shady.

The school is in Diriamba (about 40 min. from Managua) and I lived in Jinotepe. You might have the option of living in Diriamba or Jinotepe, depending on how things go and what your preferences are. Email is elizabeth199 at gmail .com.

**Note that when I imported my blog from Blogger to WordPress the picture/caption alignment got out of wack and I’m not committed enough to refigure things so that everything lines up correctly. This is why the descriptions are not where they should be. Sorry.***

This was my wonderful room in Jinotepe. It was huge and by the end I didn’t even notice the bugs and did away with the net.

This is Ballet Folklorico. Amazing dancing and a very big thing in Jinotepe. You can get lessons if you go. You know you want to wear one of those outfits.

This was some sort of festival or carnival where the children dressed up. I thought this guy looked pretty slick.

This may not immediately look hilarious, but it is. They start teaching children how to do traditional dancing VERY young. Like way before they can possibly remember particular moves. Watching them try to do these dances was the highlight of my day. It would definitely win on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

This might be another “you have to be there” funny thing, but this is a PLASTIC fountain in the middle of a very old city called Rivas. I just cannot imagine what would inspire someone to install this plastic ugly fountain across from a very old church in the middle of a very old town. Notice that it is plastic and meant to imitate wood. And see the flamingo/swan hybrid birds in the middle?

I will post more pictures sometime. I have pretty ones too. Not just funny ones.

*Note, I just notied that Joseph Santos-Lyons posted a call for volunteers in Mexico on his blog shortly before I posted this. I hadn’t seen that before this post and certainly didn’t post in order to compete! :)

Now This is an Image of Beauty that Makes Me Happier

January 10, 2007

This was on and I thought it was a great follow-up to the sickly looking picture of Kiera Knightly two posts ago. You can read the full feministing post here.

What makes someone Unitarian Universalist?

January 10, 2007

One part of my final papers involves looking at a lot of religious demographic figures. I was looking at Religion in a Free Market which analyzes the data from a survey of 51,000 U.S. Americans and then figures out what that means for the whole U.S. population. It is helpful in some ways, very unhelpful in others (but that is for another post).

The survey is based on self-identification. And according to the survey, there are about 600,000 Unitarian Universalists in the country (as of 2001). As many of us know, this is a tad more (like about three times more) than our survey of congregations shows. And this got me thinking. I’ve read where a UUA president (I want to say John Buehrens, but it could have been Bill Sinkford – I forget where I read it) commented on such a number and said that it was flattering that 600,000 people would identify as Unitarian Universalist, all those people don’t really understand what we’re about (or what it means to be Unitarian Universalist) because you have to belong to a congregation to be a Unitarian Universalist. I’ve also heard this by some of our ministers – “You can’t just be UU. You have to be active in congregational life and part of a Unitarian Universalist community.” And I see where this is coming from – the idea that we are not just some random collection of liberalish people with no core set of beliefs. We stand for something and we aren’t the catch-all for people who don’t know what else to be.

Yet. Imagine if a Christian church or denomination was like, “If you are not a member of one of our congregations, you do not count as Christian.” Or if a Buddhist group insisted that if you were not a member of one of their Buddhist communities, you were out. To me, Unitarian Universalism is not a club. It is a faith. And, for me, it is about how we live our lives, not if we are a member of a congregation. This does not mean I encourage people not to be members of a congregation. Like with Christianity, I believe that our faith is best lived out in community, but that the core of what it means to be Unitarian Universalism does not mean belonging to a congregation, but means living out the principles of love, justice, kindness, and equality in your everyday life.

So now when people ask how many of us there are, I won’t say 200,000-ish. I’ll say 600,000-ish, realizing that congregations count in many different ways and that many Unitarian Universalists out there – for whatever reason – are not involved in a congregation at the time. And, realize the work that we have to do to make our congregations feel like an essential part to our faith. Not because people “have to join,” but because they want to be part of such healthy and thriving community.

Actual Candles on the Christmas Tree and the Swan Castle

January 9, 2007

This is my partner and his sister LIGHTING the Christmas tree – as in with candles and actual fire. Everyone thought I was being overly dramatic when I suggested what fire hazard this is. EVERYONE does it, they said. Oh, that makes me feel better. I bet the rate of house fires in Germany increases a lot during the holiday season. But it does look nice.  (Note that when I imported my blog from Blogger to WordPress somehow the pictures and captions didn’t line up correctly and I haven’t the time/expertise to fix them all, so they are just going to not match. You can figure it out, though, I’m sure.  Thanks and sorry – E)

Waterfall in Fussen, Germany

This is the castle that the Disneyworld Castle is based on. It doesn’t look that impressive here, but it is with a better camera and positioning.

Healthy Bodies

January 9, 2007

Periodically, I post pictures of celebrities here with some commentary. I feel as though I hardly need to include my commentary here, but I’ll do the work that People magazine would do if they were not falling down on the job: this is just too skinny. I don’t even know who Keira Knightley is, but she is so skinny she doesn’t look good. I know. I know. We should all know this, right? Yet, I know of ZERO women my age that do not struggle with body image and wish to be at least one or two sizes smaller if not 6 sizes smaller. And it is because pictures like this are in People magazine as if it is the most normal thing to be splashing around in the ocean looking like this. It is not normal and this needs to be said more. And internalized (the hard part, of course).

More substantive posts come when rough draft of thesis is done on Friday. But I will post some lovely pictures from our German adventure soon.

Remember – exercise, eat healthily, and love your body the way it was made to look – with some bumps and curves.

No Labels for Elizabeth’s Little Blog… yet

January 5, 2007

**Note that this post is now out dated because, as I am sure you can see, there are now labels/tags on my posts.**

I’m sure you were all waiting with bated breath for me to add labels to my blog posts so that you could easily, for instance, access all the posts related to “politics”, “Unitarian Universalism”, or “cats”. However, to my great dismay the Blogger/Google gods have prevented my blog from switching over to the new version of Blogger even though my blog does not meet any of the restrictions that they list for blogs that will not yet be able to switch over. Grrr. In anticipation, however, these are the categories that you can look forward to…

Unitarian Universalism
Higher Education
Social Justice Issues
Book Reviews
Vegan Tips and Cooking
Sustainable/Simple Living
Personal Posts
First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro
Conservative/Evangelical Christianity
Funny Stuff
Chronic Illness
Blog/Administrative Issues
Democracy/Democratic Theory
Feminist Theology
Queer Theology
Liberation Theology
General Assembly
Stoles and Ministerial Attire
Congregational Life
Community Ministry

I wonder if this is too many. Guess we’ll see. Now to work on the thesis.

No More Clothes In the New Year

January 4, 2007

Well, internet access in Germany has been a big of a “back-to-the-1990s” experience. But we found out McDonald’s has wi-fi so I am back in the blogging business. As promised, this year will bring more posts with a focus on living more simply, exciting vegetarian/vegan recipes and tips (that I’ve been practicing with here in Germany), and ongoing reflections on Unitarian Universalism.

Today, I start with living more simply and a breathtaking announcement: I have resolved to buy no new clothes for the next year. This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but it is to me and here are the reasons.

First, this saves money. I won’t say how much I have spent on clothes in the last year – I don’t think it would be considered extravagant by most Americans, but certainly it would be if I think about the salaries of my friends in Nicaragua. Living in the Boston area is very expensive as it is, and W. and I would love to buy a house or condo in the next five years, so every little bit counts.

Second, this contributes less to resource usage and a more simple life. It might not be a huge reduction in the scheme of the world, but is anything we do by ourselves a huge reduction? It’s about doing what we can and hoping that others are doing their part too.

Mostly, for me, this is about letting go of worldly attachments. I’ve always loved buying clothes, but also always had this sense that it was money that I didn’t have to spend and that it was sort of vein. Who am I to get so much joy from spending as much on an outfit as my friends in Nicaragua make in a month? It is a small gesture of solidarity with those who do not have the luxury of going to the mall (or Target) for fun. There are so many needs in the world, and new clothes for me shouldn’t be high on my list.

There is such an emphasis in our culture of getting “stuff” to make ourselves feel better. I feel like my desire for an going rotation of new clothes (even if they are relatively cheap or even used) is a luxury that I’ve always allowed myself, justifying it by telling myself that I buy things on sale, don’t spend nearly as much as some friends, and it is one of my few indulgences…but I have always felt how superfluous it is and how I don’t like how much enjoyment I get from getting more and new “stuff.”

I will make an exception to get a dress for the wedding of my sister-in-law in July. And it does not apply to a limited amount of accessories – I need a pair of boots, will need socks, underwear, and I need a coat. But, buy saving money overall, I can afford to buy the more expensive fair-trade, organically produced versions of the few accessories I will get.

I’ll write a monthly reflection on the year with no more clothes. I welcome don’t-buy-clothes buddies who want to join me. Or don’t buy _______ (whatever it is that you’ve decided to give up for reasons of $, simplicity, or solidarity).

So far, after four days, so good. Not a single textile purchase, even after walking past my beloved H&M in Luxembourg City.