Thursday, June 25, 2009

What do we tell our daughters

As it is, man has sufficiently degraded woman for his lust, and [contraception], no matter how well meaning the advocates may be, will still further degrade her. --Mohandas Gandhi

The statement by Gandhi certainly will strike most people as dramatic, and many as just plain wrong. After all, in 2009 we have as a culture embraced contraception for both married and unmarried people for half a century. In fact, most people in developed nations take it for granted that we have the ability to control whether we have a child or not, for the most part.

But some are still questioning the benefits of artificial contraception. Some others dare to condemn it. Why would they do that? Surely if we had less contraception we would have more unwanted babies, whose lives would no doubt be hardly worth living; and we would have more abortions, right?

Visionaries like Gandhi, Teddy Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, and a succession of Popes saw where contraception would take society. Even early feminists of the 19th century condemned it as a way of further degrading women, allowing men to indulge their desires without responsibility toward their partner. It was predicted that marriage would be weakened, adultery would rise, pre-marital sex would be commonplace, and society would not only begin to crumble but would slowly commit suicide.

A look at our world today proves these thinkers were on to something. The birthrate in most European countries is far below the replacement rate. They are dying off. The U.S. is right behind. Divorce is ubiquitous. Fatherless children abound. Abortion, rather than becoming less common with the availability of contraception, trends upward right along with use of the pill and other preventives. Because it's all about our attitude toward sex and new life. Once we uncouple those things that God linked together, distressing trends emerge.

This is food for thought. It's worth pondering what we tell our daughters and our sons about how big a picture we are actually part of, and how what we do as an individual or a couple affects the whole tide of society.

The idea of eschewing artificial contraception may seem "way out there." But what the free thinker's bumper sticker used to say still holds: Question everything. What was conventional wisdom has become a radical proposition. Could it actually be true?
Many thanks to Christopher West and his book Good News About Sex & Marriage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Small stores, big benefits

Increasingly, the trend moves back toward time-consuming foraging behavior, as each of us is forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life.--Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

I heard the story once of a Russian immigrant who came to the United States some twenty years ago and was taken by a friend to one of our typical suburban supermarkets. The Russian, in the very first aisle, became paralyzed as he stared at the overwhelming quantity of merchandise and the endless choices he must make.

I feel like that man. While many of my friends love mammoth retailers such as Sam's Club for the dizzying breadth of products they contain, I don't do well in those stores. When I enter their cavernous interiors, a feeling of intimidation overtakes me. Where do I begin? How will I choose? How will I exit without spending three times what I meant to?

Small stores are the thing for me. If my small neighborhood grocery store does not have it, I might not need it after all. I can make one trip every couple of months to the Big Store to stock up on any exotic items I must have. And small stores have many benefits:
--I know the clerks. We talk. They know my children and always ask about them.
--I usually run into people I know and we catch up on things.
--These stores are close to home. I can walk for small things. For a big load I bring the car but expend very little gasoline.
--If you frequent small stores, you know them by heart. It takes no time at all to seize what you need and get on your way.
--There's less to choose from. You spend less time standing in the aisle deciding.
--There's less to buy that you did not intend to buy. No big tantalizing displays of patio furniture or camera phones.
--It's harder to lose your children in a small store, and if you do, someone there probably knows who he belongs to and comes to find you.

Shopping in independent stores brings extra benefits. They are more invested in your neighborhood and city than the chains are. A project is afoot to promote keeping our smaller, brick-and-mortar merchants alive in these times; it's called the 3/50 project. It calls for picking three independent stores you'd miss if they were gone and spending about $50 per month among them, total. Check it out here:

And sure, small stores charge a little more than the huge ones. But you'll buy less and will probably find, as I do, that your weekly receipt is no larger (and is probably smaller) than if you drove over to Big Buy and spent your time with them. Why not give it a whirl?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I just came to watch

With our income fitting into a very small purse these days, you might think I would not have insisted on going down to the carnival in Shawnee last weekend. These events are notorious for sucking money out of people's pockets, and what's the point of going with a near-empty wallet?

But I've been going to Old Shawnee Days for so many years, back to when my children were young, that sitting home was out of the question. So Friday evening my husband and I drove down and walked among the booths of taco makers and sugared-nut sellers. We wandered over to the main stage to hear a raucous band of thin men singing songs we did not remember and could not understand, then took refuge in the nearby perennial garden where a master gardener handed us a packet of free hollyhock seeds and urged me to call her with any questions.

Then it was time to enter the carnival section, where we found the usual collection of games of skill and chance. The Ali Baba swung its screaming riders up and down, and the Ferris wheel--my favorite--loomed above us. We approached the ticket stand and got up close to read the small-print prices posted in the window. Tickets $1 each. Ferris wheel, 4 tickets. In fact, all the rides were $4 a head, so it was clear we'd be staying on the ground. I stationed myself below the great wheel, beside the Fish Til You Win game, and had as good a time as a fistful of tickets could have gotten me.

I watched a young man close people into their seats on the Scrambler. In a short time it was full and he set it in motion. Hair flew back, people slid into each other. Some laughed helplessly, and others rode as matter-of-factly as if they were on a city bus. Beside me, children stretched their fishing rods over a pile of wire-handled takeout boxes, hoping to get one with a coupon inside for a really big animal, not just the little blue hedgehogs everybody got. Babies squirmed and mothers argued; teenagers hung in packs, watching other packs; fathers walked by slowly with baskets of curly fries, followed by their sno-cone-eating descendants. We needed some food.

Happily, the funnel cake makers were there, and we split a hot one dusted in powdered sugar as we watched tattooed men and their girlfriends walk by, along with every other sort of person you might imagine. It was everything a local carnival should be that night, and we left with sticky fingers and a renewed conviction to return every year, no matter what.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Inspiration at the custard shop

And I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to rejoice in his work; for this is his lot. --Ecclesiastes 3:22

A friend and I stumbled upon a first-rate frozen custard shop in the small town of Clinton, Missouri, on our drive home from a writers conference. Just off the town square and a stone's throw from the courthouse, 1/2 Pints Frozen Custard served us the very biggest and best bowls of that cold confection (mine complete with rich caramel sauce and pecans) that we had ever smacked our lips over.

But even more inspiring than the custard was Mike, proprietor of 1/2 Pints. Being writers and keen observers of all things along our path (or so we like to think), my friend and I started asking Mike about his life and times in Clinton. It turned out that running the town's premier frozen custard store was his second job--he also drives a truck for a living. Between the two, he admitted, he was very busy. Mike was happy to tell us about how he bought the place and renovated it to the delightful state we found it in, how he named it after his diminutive wife, and how proud he was of all his employees. He hires mostly high school students and was quick to tell us the outstanding qualities of each one and what good workers they are and how misty-eyed one can get when they graduate and move on.

You could easily see how much these kids mean to Mike. And our short conversation with the student scooping custard that day made it clear that Mike is also an important figure in his employees' young lives.

It took me a long time to finish my custard and I didn't hurry. As we bid good-bye to Mike and his helper, promising to stop in whenever we came through their town again, two young athletic-looking students loped into the shop and sat down. I suspected they were more probably there to visit than to buy dessert, and what a wonderful thing that was. And so we found inspiration at the frozen custard shop--a kind man working hard with no complaints, creating jobs that teach some lucky local kids what he learned long ago, the value of honest labor.

Ain't that America something to see?