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The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine

femalebrainI hated this book. I was expecting some great revelations from it and in the end… nothing, nothing at all. There is nothing new that you would learn from this book. The same old stereotypes that are given a scientific shape, brainy explanations. I was laughing with my husband that he has a female brain and I have a predominantly male one, because in our family h is the one who loves to talk, who is more social while I prefer solitary activities. Actually, apparently there has been a recent study which shows that men and women use roughly the same amount of words daily.

So what do we find from the author of this book? That women are conditioned to be interested in good looking men to have sex with. Wow! Really? Isn’t that the big bomb? We also find that our brains turn to mush when we become mothers and our whole world of interests changes for good. Aha. Who would have guessed?

I was hoping to get some insight that would help me with the Mutiny of Violets but I was not that lucky. Still searching.

I wonder about the relevance of this book and how could anybody decide to publish this in 2006. Well, I wasted my time with it and I am not happy. I hope that my next book will make up for it. Let’s wait and see what comes up next on my reading table. Until then, I forgive this book for taking up my precious time and I hope others will be smarter and will stop reading in time or simply not even take this book from the library shelf.

Oh, searching some more online I find out that the author of this book has been under quite some attack for not fact-checking her book. Also for citing fake sources (that don’t actually support her assertions as she wants to make her readers believe). All right. And another thing – if you start reading the bad reviews the book is getting on Amazon, you will certainly run far, far away from it, never to touch it in your life. I enjoyed reading the bad reviews much more than I enjoyed the book itself. At least it stirs some discussion. That is most times constructive. Wow. I am impressed by how critical people can be and by how lovely that is sometimes, in the world. I am happy to see that actually there are not so many the ones that take everything written to be God-spoken truth.

IN MEMORY OF MY GRANDFATHER

The way we’ll all remember my grandfather is talking about the war. It was his favorite topic. The Americans, the Germans, the Russians and Us. The cannons. The tanks. The courage. The fear.

My grandfather fought in the Second World War. He came back with medals of bravery. In some ways, he never came back from that war.

He lived to be 96. When a few months ago he started to feel weak, he said he would only go to the doctor if they hid the truth about his age. He was afraid the doctor would say ”Hey, you lived enough, old man, what more do you want?” He was half joking, half serious about it.

The way you see him there, in the photograph from his marriage with my grandmother, he was to remain for the rest of his life: strong, tall, straight and decisive.

“Don’t start Tetea talking about the war. He won’t stop for hours,” there was always the warning. We called him Tetea. My father was the youngest of his six children. We are 17 grandchildren, and between us quite a few great-grandchildren too.

Summers in Umbraresti, with all my cousins, are memories I will always cherish.

Tetea passed away.

I’ll always remember him using a barber’s razor and soap for shaving in front of the mirror on the windowsill.

I’ll remember Tetea telling us stories–Piparus Petru (Peter Pepper) and the sheep story, which used to start promising but always ended with an enormous row of sheep passing a bridge. They passed the bridge one by one, until we all fell asleep.

He had a sack of stories up in the attic. He also had a magic wireless phone there (it was sheer magic twenty something years ago,  when even landlines where a rarity). Tetea could use the magic wireless phone to call our parents when we didn’t behave.

I’ll remember how on Sundays he used to go to the church, on his bicycle, and at home he would read from a Bible so old that it looked like it had been through the war. Maybe it had.

He had great admiration for “the Americans”. I will never forget what he told me in the eve of my moving to the US: “Be proud. Don’t be afraid of anything. Show those Americans what we too can do.”

IN SEARCH OF BEAUTY AND SIMPLICITY BOTH

In search of beauty and simplicityThis weekend we took a trip to the mall. It was not just our neighborhood mall, which proudly hosts the usual Gap, Macy’s and JCPenney’s, but the fancy mall in the nearby town, where I can go around stores like Hanna Andersson and Lush.
Malls are not generally a place where I long to be. I don’t enjoy shopping and the proximity of too skinny and too excited teenage girls and their moms who cannot let go of skinny jeans just because they are skinny enough. It doesn’t put me in the best of moods. But what to do on the long suburban New England winters? There aren’t many options so we end up in the mall quite a lot.

Anyway, at the big mall this weekend I entered one store that has held a certain fascination on me for a very long time: Anthropologie. It must have been the first time I entered the store in the past two years. Overpriced, smartly marketed crap, right? I didn’t need it. And yet, this Sunday I went inside, just for a walk, just to waste some time.

I felt very happy when the hostess/greeter lady (they had one of those) admired the baby’s dress that I had knitted. Then hubby took the baby and I had the chance to walk around, all by myself, in the middle of all the beautiful things that seem to come from another era. I remembered why I loved this store, why every single item of clothing or furnishings seem to match my style. While I did not want it all, I loved being surrounded by the beautiful (expensive, not in my budget, never to be bought) things. Only one item really caught my interest (wanted to have): a beautiful, long, black, 100% wool skirt. The rest of the things were not such great quality (not natural fibers) but they were beautiful nonetheless. It suddenly occurred to me that I had missed such things. So it started me thinking: is my quest for a simpler living clashing with the natural need for beauty? Why do I have to give up on all of the pretty things? Or do I?

I realized that stores like this only market, take advantage and sell for good money some core elements of the simple living: vintage (which is simply old, but doesn’t smell of moth balls, or is only made to look like old), hand made/hand embroidered, bits and pieces reminiscent from traditions from all over the world (mainly Old Continent, right?), things that seem to be thrown together from antique shops and flea markets. They are only put together in a very consistent, very deliberate style (just read this fascinating article to see how deliberate), in a “sophisticated” (how I dislike this word and all its pretentious connotations!) French boutique look that apparently sells very well.

So do I really have to let beauty go when I pursue my simple living goals? The answer for me is: on the contrary. Beauty comes with quality, with durability, with time and love. My baby’s all-cotton dress, that took me over two weeks to design and knit, was probably the most beautiful thing in that store at that time.

Well, I am still fondly thinking of the beautiful wool skirt (on sale for 130 dollars–yeah, sure). Oh, I just found it on Ebay being called “Librarian’s Delight”(of course!), and for only 50 dollars. Hm …

THE AMAZING NATURAL FIBERS: WOOL

This fall I have been more crafty than usual. I don’t know what happened, but I discovered I could do things I never thought I would be capable of. One of those things was circular knitting. As you can see in the photo, I am the proud maker of a beautiful pair of mittens and a circular hat (which doesn’t really fit anybody, but I still think is cute).

Ever since learning about the properties of wool I have become addicted to it and what better time to make use of such addiction than the beginning of winter?

I have learnt about wool while researching cloth diapering. Although in Romania wool is (or, I think is fair to say now, WAS) used widely, I never appreciated it. I slept on wool mattresses, covering myself with wool comforters, and wearing wool sweaters, gloves, caps and socks, beautifully crafted by my mother and grandmother, all through my childhood. I never thought that I was lucky until recently, when I discovered how the synthetic materials can be harmful to our bodies and never offer all the great advantages of wool.

Wool can absorb 30% of its own weight in water without becoming damp, cold or clamping, which makes it so great for diapering. It is naturally antibacterial and absorbs odors too. It is a great insulator (even when wet) and helps the body maintain heat like nothing else out there. You can read a very well documented article on wool odor and toxin absorption here. And more information here.

I made wool mittens for my daughter of which I am very proud. The vest for my husband didn’t meet a good fate. It turned out too big, so I washed it in the machine out of which it came a little bit too small and weird shaped. But I am still happy with the twisted pattern that I tried for the first time and it is still wearable, so it’s alright.

This is my first year of such difficult and large scale knitting projects. Until now I was only an expert in scarves and last year my mom taught me a hat pattern and how to make booties. I am working on a hat like that now.

While in Romania last year my grandfather generously gave me a big sack of fresh-cut wool which I wanted to fill up Waldorf-style dolls. I didn’t do anything with it, because there was no time and no space left in my luggage, but I know it will be put to good use over there, in the land of wool. In the meantime, I am happy that here wool yarn is easily available in stores (which in Romania isn’t) and I can make small things for my family to wear, even if we’ll keep sleeping on foam mattresses and only cotton comforters.

A NATURAL YOGA MAT

Have you ever given any thought to your yoga mat? What is it made of? What is the so called “foam”?

I recently started to do yoga. Like in, this week was my first time. So I had to buy a mat. As you know, I do not want to bring any more plastic into my house, so anything I buy requires research and head aches.

The research I did online I found out that there are three choices in the natural mat department: jute, natural rubber and cotton. Cotton seems to be the most simple option – a cotton rug, probably something that has been used for centuries for yoga (although I am being assured by my husband that in India people simply did yoga directly on the floor and the mat is a very modern, western concept. Oh, well, I still wanted a mat. The only problem with the cotton rug is that it doesn’t offer much grip. So it was either jute or rubber.

Jute mats are very cute. I was leaning towards those, but all the reviews were saying that they tend to flake and thin out easily. We don’t want that, do we? So what was left? Rubber. With the rubber there is grip and there is durability. But it can get quite expensive. While your usual yoga mat can be purchased from Walmart for $10, prices of rubber mats vary between $40 to $90.

I also read online that Marshalls has a good collection of yoga mats at good prices. So to Marshalls I go. I had to check three stores until I found one that carried the thing. There, there was a product called “ecowise”, for people concerned with the environment. What was “eco” about it, you ask? The mat was made of “closed-cell foam”. What on Earth is that? Why is that ecological in any way? Nothing explained on the packaging, so obviously, I don’t buy. I ended up finding a nice (though thin) rubber mat in Barnes & Noble, for $31. And I bought it. Maybe sometime in the future, when I become a yoga expert, I will be able to justify a thicker and more expensive one, but for now I am more than happy.

Well, something is still bugging me a little: do I need a mat bag? They are so beautiful. I wonder, are those natural fibers they are made of?

CRAFT FAIRS AND DOLLS

I like fairs. They make fall a happy time. They make you forget that you have to leave summer behind and prepare for the dark, freezing winter. They make you think of another time, when fall was indeed a time of celebration of the harvest, when winters were not that bad because they meant an all deserved rest from the work in the fields. Winter meant vacation and holidays.

Nowadays the fall fairs don’t carry so much meaning. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying them to the fullest. I love looking at crafts that talented people bring in. I now discovered I love to eat caramel popcorn.

I have to say that the display of crafty creations is the best thing by far. I don’t always buy something from fairs, but when I do, it’s always been a thing that I value and appreciate for ever.

The first thing I ever bought from a craft fair, after moving to the United States, was a small soap dispenser bottle, beautifully hand-painted with a field of flowers. It is still something that makes me smile at times, when I see it in the bathroom.

The latest thing that I bought was a doll, from the Wachusett Apple Fest. It’s of course, a hand-made doll. I realize now that I never took a business card from the wonderful woman that makes them. I should have. It is a wonderful square headed chocolaty doll, that my daughter loves. She has been named Sarah. She is part of the school my daughter is running in our living room, which includes three students: Sarah and her best friends Lila and Mimi, all attending class every day, even on holidays.

Mimi (the one on the right) is the favorite. She was bought from a garage sale for $1. Lila (middle and top) is a doll that I made after looking at some tutorials online and reading one Waldorf doll-making book. It was a long and difficult process which I didn’t feel like repeating.

I don’t understand how the lady from the fair would sell her dolls for only 18 dollars, when I know how much work and time their making involves. Of course, the price was very attractive to me, as a buyer. Besides there were so many things out there sold for similar or much higher prices that were not even half as difficult to make as a doll. To give you just two examples – nice fabric belts made from trims that you can buy from any craft store, with a buckle attached (I would suspect 20 minutes at most to make one of those) and arthritis pillows that you can heat in the microwave (filled with rice and lentils, lavender and some other aroma therapy stuff – let’s say… 10 minutes to make one?). The doll took me a week. Sure, if you know what you are doing, it might take maybe 6-7 hours? Because let’s not forget, it is not just the doll but clothing and accessories too.

Yes, I can appreciate the effort in making a doll. And I couldn’t help but making a purchase from that lady to complete my daughter’s classroom. At other things I just looked and made a mental note – “I can make that too”. Maybe one of these days I will.

THE THINGS I MAKE II

The return to simplicity is not an easy road, in spite of all the slogans that like to say “It is easy to be green”. The truth is that one has to work hard – garden, animals (for some), preparing food, being self-sustainable. My parents used to scare me into studying by saying that unless I do well in school I would end up working in the fields. That is hard work. But now, I look at my parents and I understand that hard work might sometimes be healthier, more desirable, might make one happier. After holding  office jobs for most of their lives, my parents, now retired, went back to the country, to the fields. Now they are happy.

Even if I didn’t really get the pleasure in working with the soil and seeds until very recently, a few other things I did love from an young age and I did learn from my mom and my grandmother: sewing, knitting and crocheting. I am proud of that. I am proud of the things that come out of my hands. I am. Love and care are woven in.

So here are a few of the things that I have made this summer.

The photo on the top shows the blouse and the diaper bag I made for myself. The bag is made from a remnant fabric I bought from Jo-Ann’s for $4 or less. I has beautiful colors.

These are three dresses that I made for my daughter. As you can see, I used the same pattern (the only pattern for me – you can tell that it was used for that blouse too). The best thing about these dresses, besides having been easy to make and proving very comfortable to wear, is that they are made from recycled fabric. The blue dress was once a dress for mammy, that didn’t fit mammy anymore. The brown linen one was once a skirt of mommy’s, that mommy wore for a long time, but again, didn’t fit mommy anymore. The red dress is a remnant from a pillow case.

These up here are some small projects – handkerchiefs and cure bandanas made of fabric quarters for Jo-Ann’s again, and two old T-shirts  of mine made into nightgowns for my daughter (I just cut the shape into the T-shirt and then sewn the edges).

Here are my knitting projects. The one in the far back is a cotton sweater I began and never finished. But I am close and I hope this cold fall weather will give me an impulse to finish that job.  The orange jacket was made by my mom for her granddaughter, but has become a bit short in the sleeves, so now I am working on it. I am making the sleeves longer and my daughter will be able to wear it for another season. Aren’t handmade things just beautiful in every way?

It is easy (and fast) to go to the store and buy maybe cheaper, maybe even prettier things that in the end are just that – things. They don’t mean anything. They have only a monetary value. They end up in the trash sooner rather than later. Making them by hand gives things invaluable dimensions. It gives them soul, life, it gives them a place in nature, in the universe. And it turns us into the creators we long to be. It turns us into the loving, caring people we need to be. That justifies it all.

A TRIP TO SALEM, MA

We went to Salem, MA this weekend. It was my second visit to this amazing town and I loved it just as much as the first time. It was the perfect day – not too hot, not too tiring, spent doing people watching (and what very interesting people one could watch in Salem!), looking at crafts, at beautiful architecture, watching street shows – jazz and country music, reenactments of the witch trials, and even very good improv theatre. The perfect day. It was nice to be out on a rare beautiful day of this summer, that looks more and more like fall.

Obviously, my daughter was the one who had a blast. She played like there was no tomorrow. She wet all the changes of clothes I had taken with me. I even let her play in a fountain, where she collected the coins people had thrown in. She threw them back there, so your wishes are still safe, don’t worry. My little witch.

As I was celebrating my newly obtained driving license, I bought myself, from a garage sale taking place right there, in the middle of everything (isn’t this town amazing?), this set of coffee cups and sugar container (which might very well be soup cups and salt shaker – I don’t know, I am just telling you what use they get in my house). I payed $1 for the whole set, and I am frugal-happy. I have been looking for the perfect coffee mug for a long time. Ever since my blue, hand-painted, daffodil mug broke, back in Romania. Now I have a better replacement. It’s not only painted by hand, but all made by hand, out of pure clay. And doesn’t it look beautiful?

In Salem witchcraft and alternative lifestyles are mainstream. There are people who seriously call themselves wizards, and nobody gives it a second thought. I have seen the biggest number of Birkenstocks on people’s feet. I have seen the most beautiful jewelry and long skirts from heaven. I have seen people at peace with themselves. People who seem to know who they are, and don’t apologize for it. People who know how to be true only to themselves, and their own personal god. It is a beautiful place to be. Even for a short, late summer day.

NO PLASTIC FOR MY HAIR

I haven’t been updating so much this blog. It’s not that I don’t have things to write about but my time has become rather cranky and fussy, like a newborn. I don’t know how to please it anymore. I am using most of it to write. To write my book, that is. That makes me happy. It makes me smile at the end of the day with pride and a feeling of accomplishment, of having used the time right. Soon, I hope, I’ll be able to tame my time even more, so that it allows me to branch out my activities a little, without wasting it. It’s a work in progress.

Anyway, what I wanted to write here today was not about time, but about hair and natural stuff for it. I just bought some new things for my hair and I wanted to share my joy. I know that buying new things, owning more stuff is not the greenest thing one can do. That’s why I promise to balance this post with a following one about how I transform old things into new with my sewing machine and my sewing hands. But today I need to show you some things that I bought.

First of all, there is the horn comb. I have found out that one can buy anything on the Internet. Even old-fashioned horn combs, like I haven’t seen since I was a toddler, in my grandmother’s house. Actually, we had a “bone comb” then. A little difference. On my last trip to Romania I bought some wooden hair brushes and a wood comb, and I was thrilled – all my family was going to stop using plastic in their hair. It turned out that nobody really likes to use brushes, so I had to look for more combs. I found out that horn combs don’t produce static electricity in your hair, disperse the natural oils evenly and even prevent premature greying and hair loss, not to mention that they have been proved by traditional Chinese medicine to help blood circulation in the scalp, even (apparently) help with headaches and rheumatic diseases. Horns contain keratin, just like human hair, so it makes sense that it should be nothing but beneficial, right?

horn-comb
Image from Kaufmann Mercantile

Many of these combs are hand made and of incredible quality too. Aren’t they beautiful? I think they should last a lifetime. I do not intend to ever buy another comb again.

Another great thing for my hair is the Flexi-8 hair clip. Here I have to thank my friend Noor, whom I miss badly, for introducing me to these things. Never before this have I experienced a hair clip that didn’t hurt at all, didn’t feel heavy in my hair (I have very, very fine hair). And it is metal, not plastic! I have bought these things for my whole family. And again, I don’t know if I will ever need another hair clip in my life. This is it.

I have issues with my hair and finding things that work for it is a big thing for me. Remember those beautiful natural hair soaps that I blogged about once? Well, those didn’t really work for me. My hair simply looks sticky and awful after using a soap bar. Even if I use vinegar water to rinse, as my mother had taught me once. So I am back to liquid shampoo now, which doesn’t make me very happy because liquid shampoos tend to have longer ingredients lists.

My craziness about no plastic in hair is affecting my daughter too. I have found a few minuscule metal clips for her growing hair, but I guess they are more traumatizing on her scalp than plastic would be. She holds on to them until I pick her up from preschool. As soon as she sees me, she starts pulling the clips out of her hair. I am still trying to find a perfect solution for her baby hair. No, Mom, I am not cutting her bangs!

I know that most of us are trying to get rid of plastics especially in the kitchen, because it leaks into foods, and that is a big scare. I have done the no-plastic kitchen some time ago, and now it’s the turn of the rest of the house. I banish plastic from wherever I can. I try to not buy anything made of plastic anymore, if there is an alternative out there.

When I went to the optical store at the mall to order new glasses, I told the lady over there that I want some frames with no plastic on them, or as little as possible. Sure, I know plastic frames are highly fashionable right now. They look cool indeed. But I don’t want plastic on my face every second of every day. I don’t. She asked me “But why? Why don’t you like plastic?”. Because it is unnatural and cheap (in the sense of poor quality) and it breaks easily. It is the epitome of the consumerist society: buy pretty and cheap things that break, so that you can go to the store again and buy again other pretty and cheap things, that will break. Again. The lady from the optical store seemed puzzled: “Come here, I will show you some pairs of $500 plastic frames! You won’t say it is cheap then!”. Well, I will let you think about it: what could a pair of $500 plastic frames be the epitome of?

RECYCLE, COMPOST, TRASH

I am writing this mainly because I want to show off my great recycling center. As I told you before, we had our backyard deck rebuilt this summer. One of my requests was to have some space for storing my recycling bins. Earlier, they were just sitting on the deck in plain ugly view. I had thought about it for a while and decided that a bench on the deck could provide both sitting, and storage underneath. For my recycling. We had some trouble at first, because I didn’t spell it out to the carpenter, and the bins wouldn’t fit under the bench at first, but it all turned out great in the end, as you can see from the photo. I am very happy with this system. We have a smallish house and there is no space to store anything in the kitchen, so the deck is a perfect option, even in winter. Now, I have just seen some nicer, black recycling bins in Home Depot… well, let’s wait some 20 years for these ones to break, right?

After moving to our new home, our trash – recycling habits have made a big turn. When we lived in the apartment, we use to produce one big bag of trash every other day. No recycling whatsoever. My husband, who was doing the job of carrying the huge trash bags down the stairs three or four times a week, was expressing his concern all the time “We make so much trash! Where does it all come from?”. And then we moved.

The first time we went to buy town trash bags, we were in for a shock. 60 dollars, for 20 big bags! Whoaw! Ok, so the trash is not free anymore? That called for a change. Yes, this pay as you go for trash system is a big, big incentive. It was for us. I also need to confess, that for once or twice, in the weeks when we had both the house and the apartment, we took some trash from the house to throw at the apartment complex. Ok? Just don’t tell on us. We don’t want the Major Case Squad knocking at our door. Although, Det. Goren is welcome anytime in our house, to snoop around, and do some of his profiling. Wouldn’t that be nice? All right, stop dreaming, and go back to the little less appealing subject of the trash.

In the first few months of our living at the house, we would fill one big trash bag every week. Sometimes even a small one on the side. But I blame that on the moving, and buying of stuff needed at the new house. As we settled in, our trash production plummeted. To one small bag per week. To one small bag per two weeks. And I am confident we can take it farther, as we learn to recycle everything, and we use very few disposable products. Did you know that empty toothpaste tubes can be recycled? We use Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, and I just found out we can recycle the tubes.

The most difficult thing to implement, though, has been the composting. We do not have a sink disposal. Had one in the apartment, and loved it. Here, we decided, we can be more eco-friendly by starting a compost pile. Especially when we are trying to garden. Well, we are not very crafty – handy people. We do our best, though. After being appalled by the idea for a long time, after swearing this was one thing I would never do (come on, we are talking worms here!), I started to consider it. Many benefits. Unless I accept I am really lazy, no real drawbacks (I completely blocked the squirming worms imagery). So I started the easiest way I could find. I bought some big paper bags from the grocery store, that were said to be great for composting. I filled it nicely, with kitchen scraps, twigs, and soil until a bad rainy week came over, accompanied by wild animal attacks, and all my pile ended up sprawled on the ground. Not nice.

I had read somewhere online that you can buy a big trash can, make some holes in its bottom, and use it as a compost bin.  After a quick trip to Home Depot, we ended up with this beautiful treasure.

Believe me, I was ready to suck it up, and buy a plastic trash can, look at the greater picture, you know? But then we found this beautiful, retro looking, metal can, and never looked back. I placed it right under the deck, and I love looking at it. And you know what? It was cheaper than most plastic cans. How weird is that?

My husband pierced holes in the bottom with a nail. It should be good, right?

Now I am left to wonder how quickly will it decompose, or fill up. My husband still needs to dig up a hole at the back of the yard to throw everything there once it fills up. Or maybe we’ll end up buying a second bin (I wouldn’t mind that one bit).

So less trash, more recycling, more composting. This is it. How much more can one write about trash?