Saturday, August 30, 2008

Irish Chain Quilt for a Wee One

Just in the nick of time, this week I finished this hand-sewn single Irish chain quilt for a beautiful little girl who arrived yesterday. Her mom is a friend of my daughter and me. When I started the quilt I didn't know if the baby would be a girl or a boy, but the mother's favorite color is blue, so I chose a blue and white palette. I wanted a light blue toile for the large squares and was pleased as punch to find a light blue toile with scenes from Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit. I figured that the dotted swiss would also be light enough to make it suitable for a girl.

I have the top hand-pieced for a child's quilt, but this is the first quilting I have done. The prospect scared me so much that I did not use a hoop. Somehow I felt that trying to use a new contraption would make the project so daunting, I would not be able to do it at all. So this was kind of experimentation, and the next time I feel I will be relaxed enough to try a hoop. There are really a lot of imperfections in the quilting, but I learned a lot.

I quilted the larger blocks with an apple pattern from Irish Chain Quilts: Single, Double, and Triple by Sharon Cerny Ogden.

I love the Irish chain pattern. For a beginner, it is nice and simple, and I love the lattice look of it across a bed. I have collected the fabric for a yellow-orange flower triple Irish chain, which is the next quilt I would like to piece. But before that, I think I better quilt the other top that I have pieced and before that...Christmas is on its way like a high-speed train!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Women Farmer Writers

I know of three famous women writers who were also independent farmers: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) (1885-1962). Do you know of more? For each of them their life on their farm and surroundings became an important source for their work.

Karen Blixen in the doorway of her home in Kenya with her beloved Scottish deerhound.

In the case of Karen Blixen, she found herself in Africa and built and created her own coffee plantation there. When she had been thoroughly bankrupted in this enterprise, she returned to her native Denmark at the age of 50 with the prospect of creating a whole new life for herself and chose to write stories (Seven Gothic Tales, Winter's Tales, and others) and became a celebrated writer with a strong following in the United States. Out of Africa recounts her life in Kenya and is a masterpiece of beautiful writing. Her letters from Africa are also fascinating. See the movie Out of Africa, which is based on both the book and her letters. In contrast to the movie, however, which focuses on her affair with Denys Finch Hatton, Dinesen makes clear in her writings that her greatest love was Africa.

Beatrix Potter at the doorway of her home at Hilltop Farm.

A naturalist since she was a young girl, Beatrix Potter defied her parents to buy and live in Hilltop Farm, in England's Lake District, where she had vacationed since she was a child. Here she became a highly respected sheep farmer, a top sheep breeder, and a judge at agricultural shows. I think her beloved children's books need no introduction. See the movie Mrs. Potter and the lovely books about her: Beatrix Potter: Life in Nature by Linda Lear, and Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller, and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at the gate of her orange grove farm in Floria.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings left her husband in New York to move to an orange grove sight unseen near Gainesville, Florida (home town area of Zora Neale Hurston), and broke through in her writing career when she took the advice of her editor, the famous Maxwell Perkins, to write about the people and life around her that she loved. She was a hunter and successful orange grove farmer. From here she wrote her biography, Cross Creek, The Yearling, the Cross Creek Cookbook, and her volumes of stories. See the movie about her: Cross Creek.

I also have photographic evidence that these three ladies all loved dogs.

Why is their work so closely associated with their farming lives? I am not exactly sure, but one thing is clear: the deep love that they had for their farms and the people around them gave them the energy and courage to draw beautiful books from themselves.

The parallels of the lives of these three women came to me thanks to The Farmer's Wife and At Home with the Farmer's Wife.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Amish Communities Now in 28 States

A funeral procession for two Amish sisters who were murdered in their school in September 2006 by a gunman who killed three other girls in the school and then turned the gun on himself.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Amish population in America has nearly doubled in the last 16 years and that Amish communities have spread to 28 states from their original base in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio in search of inexpensive farmland. I think this is good news. I am not Amish myself, but spent my first four years in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I remember on country roads behind Amish carriages and my fascination with them. I also loved seeing the beautiful colors of their clothes on clotheslines and the sweet innocence of their children--girls in their little bonnets and the boys in their straw hats. For all these reasons, I adored the book by Marguerite de Angeli, Henner's Lydia, about the Amish girl and her adventures in making a hooked rug and taking it to market.
These are all the familiar images of the Amish, a shy people who do not appreciate being photographed.

Grief-stricken Amish outside the schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where the girls were killed.

But when a gunman broke into a small Amish schoolhouse in September 2006 and murdered five little Amish girls in cold blood and seriously injured five others, the country got a measure of the depth of the religion that has held this community together. Instead of mounting bitter protests against this violent intrusion into their community, the neighboring Amish and the families of the dead girls expressed their feelings of grief not only for themselves but for the perpetrator and for his family. "We forgive"--without conditions--was their uniform message to the world.

"Dozens of Amish neighbors came out Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage," reported Yahoo news October 7, 2006. In another news report, Dwight Lefever, spokesman for the family of the man who killed the girls and then himself, told a prayer service that an Amish neighbor came to comfort the [Roberts] family. "He stood there for an hour, and he held that man in his arms, and he said, 'We will forgive you,'" Lefever said. "He extended the hope of forgiveness that we all need these days."

"We have to forgive. We have to forgive him in order for God to forgive us," an Amish woman told CBS News Early Show on the condition that her name and face not be shown.

Girls looking out the buggy back window.

The Amish do not evangelize but seek to preserve their way of life. A book I read on the Amish a year ago discussed their relationship to technology: They do not oppose technology per se, but they will not adopt technologies they believe will introduce centrifugal forces that disperse their community.

In all areas that they live, the Amish are known as hard-working good neighbors and gentle people, whose craftsmanship in all endeavors is unsurpassed.

The Amish are growing. I find that to be good news.

The Amish are plain people with a highly cultivated sense of beauty: home-dyed clothes on the line.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Assumptions of Linda's Hirshman's Get to Work and Also Some Questions

Carl Larsson's painting of himself and his family. What is the family for, after all?

Thanks so much for the comments to Get to Work. As you can see below, I have asked a lot of questions, so there is plenty of room to say what you think and contribute to the discussion. Also Suzanne noted that there are a lot of comments on Amazon on this book.

Below are what I came up with as assumptions and/or arguments of Get to Work and questions related to some of them. These are questions for Linda Hirshman but also just for thinking about men, women, and families. Please feel free to add to this list, or challenge it. I hope we can have some fun.

Assumption 1: Men and women should have the same roles because the natures of women and of men are exactly the same. Is this true?

Question: If it is not true, then what are the different natures of men and women and what are their roles?

Assumption 2: Only women assuming the same roles in society as the ruling men represents “a flourishing life.”

Question: What is a “flourishing life”? (Hirshman never defines this.)

Question: Is it impossible for an uneducated woman to have a flourishing life, in the same way that no woman who decides to stay home with her children can have a flourishing life?

Assumption 3: Household work is degraded work, and women who choose it are degraded.

Question: What about women who do household work for a living? Are they automatically degraded? If so, should paid household labor be made illegal, like prostitution? Should all jobs involving solely physical labor be prohibited? Is there a job that involves only physical labor? Does doing a physical job well involve any intellectual effort or is intellectual effort irrelevant?

Hirshman thinks it is: “Certainly it’s not using your reason to do repetitive, physical tasks, whether it’s cleaning or driving the carpool.”

Question: Is reason man’s single most important capability?

Question: The work of a woman in the home is not defined by Hirschman but merely denigrated. What is the work of a woman in the home? What is the mission in the home?

Assumption 4: The United States is ruled by a ruling class.

Question: Does anyone else have power besides this ruling class? What constitutes membership in the ruling class?

Assumption 5: Society is ruled, not governed. Therefore, for women to be represented, women must seek to become part of the ruling group (glass ceiling argument).

Question: If women have to be part of the ruling group (in order to represent their interests qua women), how are children’s interests to be represented? Should children be part of the ruling group also?

Assumption 6: Women’s interests are strictly their own interests as individuals; the interests of the family are either irrelevant or in contradiction to the interests of women.

Assumption 7: Because women are robbed by their roles in the family household of realizing their talents to the fullest, the family is a moral obstacle to maximizing societal good. Is this true?

Question: The family is not defined except as a patriarchal institution and implicitly, a logistical arrangement. Therefore, the question is raised: What is the family and what is its mission or purpose?

Assumption 8: Because the family is a smaller institution than the institutions of the society at large, concentrating on one’s own family is limiting.

Assumption 9: Because the interests of society as a whole are more important than the interests of a mere family, concentrating on one’s own family is selfish.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Get to Work????#$%*&

The old woman in a shoe...not a candidate for breaking the glass ceiling.

This post is a continuation of a conversation that begins with Stay at Home Moms: Not So Many and the comments to that post.

When I heard of a book called Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, I was startled, because my impression is that most women are overworked and need no further imperatives to "get to work." Curious as to what this author could be talking about, I got the book out of the library and read it; happily, there were only 92 pages of text. The book is written by Linda R. Hirshman and dedicated to Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, the 1963 diatribe against domesticity that is credited with launching the feminist movement.

Hirshman sees the necessity of renewing the feminist movement in the face of the challenge of "choice feminism"--the notion by which women should feel free to choose to (1) concentrate on developing their careers or (2) focus on their children and stay at home or take far-less demanding and time-consuming jobs so they have as much time as possible to care for their family.

Hirshman believes that women should not feel free to choose and that the only moral choice is for all women (at least if they are educated) to pursue their chosen careers to the fullest and break the glass ceiling. The family is an obstacle to this commitment to career, and therefore, women smust persevere in demanding and obtaining a "just household" in which the man shares at least half of the domestic work--child care, cooking, and cleaning.

Her argument for the moral imperative for women to forego family to work runs as follows:
Bounding home is not good for women and it’s not good for the society. The women aren’t using their capacities fully; their so-called free choice makes them unfree dependents on their husbands. Whether they leave the workplace altogether or just cut back their commitment, their talent and education are lost from the public world to the private world of laundry and kissing boo-boos.

Hirshman considers a woman's concentration on the care of her family to be "selfish" because it robs society of her talents. Instead her talents are wasted on "laundry and kissing boo-boos."

She continues:
The abandonment of the public world by women at the top means the ruling class is overwhelmingly male. If the rulers are male, they will make mistakes that benefit males. Picture an all-male Supreme Court. What will that mean for the women of America?

Educated women opting out and working mothers throughout society doing 60 percent to 70 percent of the housework reveals a hard truth. Good economic research shows that women have squeezed as much out of their days as they can without more help. For all its achievements, feminism cannot make more progress, private or public, until it turns its spotlight on the family. Child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life. Gender ideology places these tasks on women’s backs; women must demand redistribution....

Highly educated women’s abandonment of the workplace is not an extension of the centuries of upper-class arm candy; it’s a sex-specific brain drain from the future rulers of the society.... Friedan was pretty clear on what the right choice was—she likened housework to the work of an animal....

Deafened by choice, here’s the moral analysis these women never heard: The family—with its repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks—is a necessary part of life and has obvious emotional and immediate rewards, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust.

Certainly it’s not using your reason to do repetitive, physical tasks, whether it’s cleaning or driving the carpool. …Why would the congressman she writes to listen to someone whose life resembles that of a toddler’s, Harvard degree or no?

Mother with favored offspring

The social cost of educated women’s decisions to abandon their quest for positions of social power is higher than the benefit to the favored few biological offspring. In other words, they are mostly doing less good than harm. They contribute to perpetuating a mostly male ruling class that will make mistakes; being rulers, those mistakes can be enormous. It is unimaginable that the decisions about abortion and male-only schools would sound the same if there had been no women on the Supreme Court.
That is the moral imperative for women to "get to work." Hirshman also presents a "strategic plan to get to work"--for women to assert themselves within the home so that they can return to work without having to worry about their families:
  • "Don’t study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work.
  • Never quit a job until you have another one. Take work seriously.
  • Never know when you’re out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household.
  • Consider a reproductive strike.
  • Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women’s work."
Hirshman considers the family to be "the most intransigent of patriarchal institutions in our society.”

Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman is an attorney and a former professor at Brandeis University, where she taught a philosophy course on sexual bargaining. She is married and has children.

I'd love to hear your comments, and I will add my own comments to her book in a future post.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Worlds

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt, 1889

See Little Jenny Wren for a beautiful discussion of her experience with the two work worlds that many women straddle.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blessings of the Present

Rachel Weeping, by Charles Willson Peale

Above is a painting by Charles Willson Peale of his wife Rebecca weeping over her dead little one. This painting is a poignant reminder of one of the blessings of modern life: the drastic lowering of child and infant mortality. In 19th-century America, the mortality of children on the frontier under the age of five was 50 percent. This is significantly higher than the child mortality rate in Africa today, except in war-torn regions. Although Rachel Peale did not live on the frontier but in colonial Philadelphia, she lived in a time of high infant mortality. The older stones in graveyards tell the story; those with the lamb on top signify that a child lies there. In the 19th century, babies who were raised in ideal conditions, clean environment, regularly breast fed, and well cared for could expect death rates of 80 to 100 per thousand. The inner city rates were dramatically higher, infant mortality (not even child mortality) was on average 30 percent, mainly due to the poverty, dreadful housing situations, and unhealthy urban sanitary conditions (Recall the infant and child deaths in Angela's Ashes.)

Perhaps today, from our position of advantage, we might think that mothers who lose their children at such rates "are used to it." But Rachel Weeping tells the truth: The loss of a child anywhere and in any time rains down a shower of grief upon the mother--grief compounded by the feeling of utter helplessness in the face of incurable disease or starvation.

Likewise, the mortality of women from childbirth was high. According to Children of the West by Catherine Luchetti, maternity deaths were as high as 25 percent on the American frontier, and in the 19th century, men far outnumbered women on the frontier for this reason. Even as late as the 1930s, America was considered one of the most unsafe places in the world for pregnant women. In many other places in the world today, childbirth still causes many maternal deaths. According to Save the Mothers, in the 20th century, more women died worldwide from childbirth than soldiers killed in both world wars, and from 1980 to 2000, more women died from childbirth than died from AIDS.

Today, with the benefits of medicine, maternal mortality is so uncommon in the United States that the number-one cause of death of American pregnant women or of women who recently delivered babies, is homicide--usually at the hand of a man who knows the woman.