Monday, August 29, 2011

Only In My Dreams

Sometimes I feel disconnected from my own mind.  For example, if I can’t find my sunglasses, I’ll think to myself, “Where would 2pm Annie have put these?”  Or if I stumble across something exactly in the right place, like a word document in just the right file on the computer or the shearing scissors in just the right basket in the closet, I’ll say to myself “Good job Past Me.  You put these in the right spot.”  My Disconnected Mind praises me all the time.  I know this is odd, but it’s also a great ego boost.  I’m sure I have a very health self-esteem because of my manic self-congratulatory tendencies.  

So when I saw Beyonce cradling her little baby bump on the red carpet of the VMAs last night, my Disconnected Mind felt a twinge of jealousy.  I know this not because I personally felt jealous, but because I know that a distant part of my brain - the same part that congratulates me on finding lost items - is engaging in mental sabotage to get me pregnant.  Like Freddy Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street, my Disconnected Mind attacks me where I’m most vulnerable: my dreams.

That’s right.  I’ve been dreaming that I’m pregnant.  And I don’t mean that I’m dreaming about my ankles swelling or stretch marks.  Nope.  In my dreams I’m either - to be PG-13 about it - in the act of becoming pregnant (no complaints here) or am in Beyonce baby bump bliss, with smiling family faces and Father-of-the-Bride-Part-Two like nurseries.  It’s freaking adorable, and my Disconnected Mind knows it.

I started having these vivid pregnancy dreams about a year ago.  Like I always do if I have a particularly memorable dream, I first looked up the meaning on'sDream Dictonary:

To dream that you are pregnant, symbolizes an aspect of yourself or some aspect of your personal life that is growing and developing. You may not be ready to talk about it or act on it.

Pish posh.  Maybe this symbolism holds if you’re a man dreaming that you’re pregnant.  But a 26 year-old woman having recurring pregnancy dreams at the same time every month for the past year?  The only aspect of my life “growing and developing” is my fertility clock.  And my Disconnected Mind is magnifying its tick-tock like a megaphone.  I wake up from those dreams feeling like I have Big Ben in my ovaries.

But then I look over and see my furry baby by the side of the bed.  Teddy will do for now, especially because he doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night or make me take him to see The Smurfs movie.  So Big Ben might be ticking, but I’m going to put in my earplugs for now.  No babies for us for awhile.  Just in my dreams.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Memory Journal: Back To School

East-coasters will be wondering why I’m writing about back-to-school when it isn’t even September.  Well we early-birds in the Midwest go back in mid-August.  Chalk it up to those catchy Old Navy commercials with the dancing families singing about cheap jeans, but I get super nostalgic about my school days around this time each year.  After all, I haven’t gone “back to school” for four years now, but I did for the preceding 18 Augusts.  In truth - and there’s a Meijer commercial that made fun of this - I loved back-to-school time, especially the shopping.  Nothing could get me in the mood for some serious studying and note-taking like crisp folders and bright white paper.  Going to Target or one of the office supply stores felt like stocking up on penicillin and food at the general store in the Oregon Trail video game: serious prepping for a big adventure.  I carefully chose the items that would accompany me every day for the next ten months:  pencils that would slide into the thin nook at the top edge of my desk, college-ruled paper I’d hand out to classmates who ran out, and multi-colored binders that would go rigid stuffed with notes and dividers by the end of the year.  For a good three years in high school, my most prized school-related possession was my ladybug-studded denim pencil case.  Handy, cute... I loved that thing.  

I may not brag about my pencil cases anymore, but I can still reminisce about my back-to-school days:

First grade:   I’m asleep in my parents' bedroom.  I remember seeing the tulip trees out the window and the blue-patterned wallpaper between my sleepy eyes.  I must have snuck up here the night before because I was nervous.   But I’m too cozy to get out of bed now.  Having come from afternoon kindergarten, I’m not used to getting up early.  My mom comes to the side of the bed and cheerfully reminds me, “Annie, it’s your first day of First Grade.”  I sit straight up out of excitement, making a perfect L with my body.  I’m so excited for my first day of real school.

Third grade:  I’m in the gymnasium of my elementary school a few days before school starts.  A friend from church runs up to me and says “We’re both in Mrs. M’s class!”  She grabs my hand and pulls me over to a piece of computer paper taped to the gym wall, and I see my name listed under Mrs. M’s. class.  We’re both excited.  We think she’s the best third grade teacher only because she’s young and pretty.

Junior High:  I labor for hours the night before trying to determine what I should wear on the first day of school.  Wide leg jeans?  Abercrombie & Fitch?  Even though I'll be seeing familiar faces, I still feel like I'm making a first impression.  

Ninth grade:  The day before my first day of high school, I go in to register and get my picture taken for my student ID and our yearbook.  I’ve carefully chosen my outfit and primped my hair.  But I know my ninth grade picture will misrepresent me because I get my braces taken off the next day.  

High school:  My high school is huge (around 4,000 students), and we only have ten-minute passing periods.  My stress dreams before each new semester involve getting lost in the hallways and not being able to find where classroom B125 is before the bell rings, and I am not the kind of student who would ever get a “tardy.”  No sir.  Lucky for me, my dad is a teacher at my high school, so he takes me over the night before our first day back and helps me find my classrooms.  It’s always fun to see the school at night.  The hallways seem restful and sleepy, just waiting for the excitement of tomorrow.

College:  My best friend-turned roommate and I just moved into our dorm room, and freshman orientation is in full force.  I’m excited to make new friends, but I’m happy that I already have one with me.  We feel like each others' security blankets.  But a few days after we move in, she gets sick with mono and has to go home.  I’m bummed she has to leave and even more bummed that we won’t ever be able to share our dishes or utensils.  Plus, she accidentally takes the cable cord hook-up with her so I can’t watch TV.  I only have two DVDs with me, and I watch one of them almost every night for two weeks.  I still have the beginning of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets memorized: “I’m sorry, Hedwig, I’m not allowed to use magic outside of school.”  College is just as cool as Hogwarts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What do you think of when...

Every once in awhile when I’m sitting around with someone and we have nothing to do, I like to play a little association game.  I’ll say “Tell me what you think of when I say these two colors,” and I’ll randomly name two colors like pink and yellow, blue and green, gray and red, etc.  It’s interesting to hear peoples’ associations.  For what it’s worth, those colors remind of Easter dresses, a picture of Earth, and Bowser’s Castle in MarioKart.

This nerdy game I play touches on a deeper issue:  the dichotomy of the universality of human senses and the individual way we each experience them.  We all know what the colors black and purple look like, but I might be the only one in the world who associates those two colors with a Lisa Frank folder I had in elementary school.

So color me tickled when I read an article in The New Yorker about a guy named David Eagleman that mentioned a little phenomenon called synesthesia.  A professor of neuroscience at Baylor University in Houston, Eagleman studies the cool stuff we should have studied in our high school science classes.  This particular article tracks Eagleman’s quest to figure out why time seems to slow down whenever something bad is happening to us.  Very interesting.  But I felt most impacted by the parenthetical aside in this paragraph:

Time isn’t like the other senses, Eagleman says. Sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing are relatively easy to isolate in the brain. They have discrete functions that rarely overlap: it’s hard to describe the taste of a sound, the color of a smell, or the scent of a feeling. (Unless, of course, you have synesthesia—another of Eagleman’s obsessions.)

After rolling my eyes at the author of the article for making me feel stupid for not knowing what synesthesia is, I looked it up on Wikipedia: a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.  People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.  In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be "farther away" than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).

Light bulb!  I am a total synesthete.  It’s August right now, and here’s how August looks in my mind relative to the year:
February               April
January                                May
December                                        June
November                       July
October             August

And in school, the grading scale moved from right to left in my mind:
    F  D-  D  D+  C-  C  C+  B  B-  B+  A  A-  A+

With wide eyes, I mentioned this to Ian, and he said that he visualizes the TV channels going in different directions, with certain numbers going from from bottom to top, others moving right to left, as if they’re making a square.

Synesthesia is just a grand extension of my color association game.  While the color association game can also show our shared associations (what do you think of with the colors red and green?  Christmas, right?), synesthetes’ perceptions are intensely personal.  Just like the random color combinations.  So even though we may shop at the same stores, drive the same cars, and even export our way of life abroad, our brains won’t let us blend in to the crowd.  Deep down in our thoughts is where we’re our own fierce selves. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweet Home Indiana

The summer before my freshman year of college in Illinois, my best friend-turned roommate and I decided to do some off-to-college shopping.  We hopped in her car, pumped up the Rascal Flatts music, and drove around our Indiana town to pick up a few essentials:  mini-fridge, microwave, those odd-length sheets for our dorm room beds, and the Indiana State Flag.  That’s right.  Tucked amongst our notebooks and extension cords was the yellow spangled royal blue flag of Indiana.  We hung it on our dorm room closet and mentally saluted it each time we felt homesick or just plain perplexed at the customs of native-born Chicagoans (e.g. the Steve Bartman incident).  Like those “just add water” toys that inflate when you put them in the bathtub, dropping us Hoosier girls off in Illinois magnified our state pride to a perhaps-annoying level.  Several out-of-state years later, we still love being from Indiana.

So it should be no surprise then that I’ve been feeling really bummed about the tragedy at the State Fair this past weekend.  “Bummed” is the wrong word - that makes it sound like a I got second place in a surfing competition.  I am downright sad, both as a native Hoosier and a life-long patron of the Indiana State Fair.  I realize that tragedies happen all the time, but this one feels particularly mournful somehow. I know others feel uniquely impacted as well:  I called my parents on Sunday morning who reported that they were both equally upset about it; I watched the Governor choke back tears on TV; and much of Indiana has been tuned in non-stop to the local news channels, which continue to cover this story alone on their Sunday night broadcasts with sleepy correspondents stationed at the fairgrounds and local hospitals.

The State Fair tragedy feels intensely personal, and I can’t help but wonder why.  

Maybe it’s because it happened at the State Fair, a beloved Hoosier family tradition.  I started going to the State Fair in diapers, watching the candy-striped hot air balloons take off from the dusty fields of the fairgrounds and listening to the loud TSCHHH of the fire pulls as they lit up the balloons like big lanterns.  We’ve developed new family traditions since then: munching on honey sticks in the Pioneer Barn; burning our mouths on a hot fried green tomato out of taste impatience; cooling off in the air-conditioned Expo Building while wondering if the ShamWow can really pick up that much liquid; and rolling our eyes at my dad whenever he eats a pork burger in front of the world’s largest pig.  And we end our annual visit with a tractor-tram ride around the fairgrounds at night enjoying the echo of the music from the Grandstands as the twinkling lights of concert-goers’ flashbulbs go off in the distance.  

But the Indiana State Fair is bigger than my personal memories of it.  It may be a Hoosier family tradition, but it’s also a tradition of the Hoosier Family, a unifying festival of state pride.   And that’s why I think the State Fair tragedy feels so personal -  because the Fair is the beating heart of Indiana in August.  An event and an atmosphere unique to and belonging to the people of Indiana, it’s a place for us to come together to celebrate the state we love.  

And we do love our state.  I’ve never met any other people as proud of their state as folks from Indiana are.  We’re the Crossroads of America and known for our Hoosier Hospitality;  we only wear blue on Sundays to cheer on the Superbowl Champion Colts and my boyfriend Peyton Manning; and we know the words to our state song and sing it loud and proud whenever we drive across the state line or cheer on the pros at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  We even write blog posts about how awesome our state is.  We may not have the biggest buildings or the most charismatic politicians, or even a Major League baseball team, but we’re Hoosiers, and that’s the proudest label a person can wear.

So feel free to make fun of our cornfields and one-skyscraper downtown skyline.  Laugh at some of the accents from down-state and complain that we’re too conservative.  But we Hoosiers have a spirit that is unique in all the world.  And we know that, though we may leave Indiana for school, jobs, or family, Indiana never leaves us.  So we proudly carry our state with us wherever we go, knowing that we’ll always be welcome back home again in Indiana.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Balsamic Bruschetta

This is my second recipe post in a week, and I’m starting to feel a bit like Julie Powell, except without the gazillion dollar book deals and the mental trauma of deboning a duck.  Ew.   But there’s a good reason behind my recent burst of epicurean adventures:  ‘Tis harvest season in our garden.  Lettuce, peppers, zucchinis and yellow squash - all ready for picking.  But more than anything, we have an infestation of tomatoes.  I newly understand the motivation of the folks who wrote Attack of the Killer Tomatoes because in our refrigerator this week we had close to a dozen tomatoes and a sizable brood of their little cherry children.  They were wreaking havoc in the fridge, squishing the lettuce and swiss chard and forcing the lemons to loose their plurality in the produce drawer. So before diplomatic negotiations broke down into an all out Veggie War, I decided to sacrifice the Red Scare and make a quick and easy bruschetta.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous to make bruschetta because Ian doesn’t like tomatoes.  I’m a big fan, though.  In fact, one of my favorite cooking scenes from Julie and Julia (I told you I was starting to feel like Ms. Powell), is when Amy Adams makes a delicious-looking chunky bruschetta from red and yellow tomatoes.  Hoping Ian would like it, I summoned the all-powerful combination of garlic, olive oil and basil chanting the phrase from Captain Planet, “With your powers combined...”

He ate his whole plate.

Balsamic Bruschetta

8 tomatoes, diced
⅓ Cup chopped basil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Sliced french bread, toasted

1.  Combine the tomatoes, basil, and garlic.
2.  Add in the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Stir.  
3.  Toast the french bread by coating one side of each slice with olive oil, place oil-side down on cookie sheet, and cook for 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
4.  Top bread with bruschetta and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fire Eyes

This is not a post about sexy bedroom eyes or Tyra Bank’s advice to those girls on America’s Next Top Model to “smile with your eyes.”  No, no.  This post is much more serious because I have a big problem with my baby blues.  In fact, they’re watering right now just thinking about it.  Here it is:

Onions make my eyes burn.

I know.  Everyone cries cutting a raw onion.  And in case you’re wondering, here’s why it happens:

When you cut an onion, you break cells, releasing their contents. Amino acid sulfoxides form sulfenic acids. Enzymes that were kept separate now are free to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.

Onions may make everyone cry, but I think I’m a unique case.  Not only do I cry slicing onions, I scream out in pain like I’m being tear-gassed by riot police in London.  I cut them up roughly and throw them in the pan like I’m doing a Quick Fire challenge on Top Chef.  And God forbid a recipe call for finely diced onions.  Whenever that’s happened I’ve always had to call in an extra set of hands to monitor the stovetop as I pass out on the couch with a damp washcloth over my eyes, looking like a trench warfare victim from WWI.  

But I refuse to stop cooking with onions because they’re so tasty.  My eyes might be watering writing this, but my stomach is growling.  So I do what I can to minimize the burning: I refrigerate the onions for days before I use them, and I’ve tried lighting a candle next to the cutting board.  For the record, the former works better than the latter.

Well, folks, I’m writing to announce that I’ve discovered the best Fire Eyes prevention strategy yet.  Forget refrigeration and candles, this strategy treats onions as what they really are: acid-bearing edible bulbs.   I first used this technique my sophomore year of high school when I made Christmas breakfast for my parents, but I resurrected it today preparing my Mexican Pasta. Roughly chopping the onions and moaning in pain at my stinging, dripping eyes, I had a sharp longing to own one of those emergency eye wash stations that were always collecting dust in the corner of my science classrooms. We never had to use it because we used something else to protect our eyes from dangerous chemicals. So set your vanity aside and prepare to never cry over an onion again:

Safety first with goggles

It's very important to put the goggles on before you start crying over the onions. Otherwise you'll trap the acidic vapors in your goggles and it will feel like a thousand bees are stinging each of your eyes. Not like I've done that before or anything.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Amish White Bread

For thousands of years people made bread every day.  From the long crusty slices of the French baguette to the soft, shiny braids of Jewish challah, bread is not only a staple of the human diet, but also a representation of the world’s cultures and traditions. My personal bread tradition centers around one aisle in the grocery store where I examine the breads like it’s the Spanish Inquisition:  When does this one expire?  Do this one have corn syrup in it?  What does “Natural” really mean?  The last loaf standing goes into my cart and home to my refrigerator, snugly wrapped in its little clear sack with a nice note from the manufacturer telling me when it expires.  Welcome to American Modernity.

Well folks, it’s time to devolve because Pepperidge Farm ain’t got nothing on homemade bread.  It’s fun, cheap, and tasty - a trifecta of awesomeness.

I decided to try my hand at making bread because I thought I would enjoy learning something new and because I’d been getting irrationally annoyed at the endless list of ingredients on the back of the bread sacks.  I mean, surely the Native Americans made bread without “Calcium Propionate,” right?  So I looked up a recipe online, and found one described as “fool proof.”  Perfect because I had no idea what I was doing.  In my mind, bread-making was something only French patissiers and food industry engineers knew how to do.  But I purchased a few ingredients I didn’t already have, and put on my apron.  

Two hours later, with the sweet smell of the baking dough hanging in my house, I pulled my first loaf of bread out of the oven.  It popped up over the edge of the pan, teasing me with its gorgeous golden brown edges.  It was the most beautiful loaf of bread I’d ever seen.  (Bonus: It was also the cheapest loaf of bread I’d ever seen.  The batch I prepared could make three of loaves.  If you had to buy all the ingredients at the store, I’d estimate the cost per loaf to be around $1.)  I nudged it out of the pan onto a cutting board and sliced a small piece off of the end, tossing it in my hands to cool it off.  I took a bite.  Soft, sweet, warm. No grocery store loaf could ever compete.  It was the best bread I’d ever tasted.  No Inquisition necessary.

Here are a few photos of the process followed by the recipe I used. 

Proofing the yeast means "wait 10 minutes until it bubbles like beer"
With the dry ingredients mixed in, time to knead. I put it on a floured cutting board and folded and pushed it
down like I'd seen on TV.
Ready for the yeast do its magic. A la peanut butter sandwiches...
Ta da!  Let's be honest, though, yeast is creepy. The way it grows reminds me of those indestructible dancing brooms in Fantasia.

Split the dough and formed it into loves.  Ready for the oven. Teddy is helping in the background.
Just a peek!
The final product! 

Amish White Bread Recipe:

2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
6 cups bread flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
2.  Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
4.  Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

Store leftover dough in a flour-coated resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer.  When you want to make bread again, allow the cold dough to thaw to room temperature before repeating steps 3 and 4.  Expect one loaf to stay fresh on the counter for 2-3 days.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Meaningfulness of Life, Part 2

Ian and I have been spending less since our transition from DINKs (Dual Income No Kids) to SINKs.  When we both worked, we spent money like we were filming a Lil Wayne video, but instead of Range Rovers and Cristal we spent our money on chocolate molten cakes at Chili’s and 3-D movies at the fancy theater downtown.  And Coke Icees - maybe mixed with cherry if we felt really adventurous.  

Of course we’ve cut back our spending since I left my job.  I still get Coke Icees, but we eat more meals at home, limit our shopping trips, and only go to the movies for a must-see film instead of just as a fun activity. (This summer’s must-see movies have been Thor, Captain America, Crazy Stupid Love, and - coming up next - The Help.  I’m sure you can figure out which ones were my choices.)  

Here’s the thing:  I think that spending less is making our lives more meaningful, maybe even happier.   Like I said in my last post, the rarer the opportunity, the more special it becomes.  Since we’ve been spending less, the times that we splurge are more special.

It makes sense, right?  In a world where serotonin boosts are inexpensive and easily accessible - whether through $1 tubs of soda at McDonald’s or a cheap plane ticket abroad - maybe we can’t depend on our purchases alone to maximize our pleasure.  Perhaps to truly maximize the happiness we get from an experience or an item, we need to withhold it from ourselves because rarefying availability increases desirability.  In other words, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  

Since the recession hit a few years ago, I’ve come across a few articles about the relation between conspicuous consumption and happiness.  I now know that after you pay the bills, you’re better off spending your money on experiences like travel and rock climbing than on new handbags.  I've also learned that anticipation of a purchase is a big contributor to the happiness you get from the purchase itself, as explained in this New York Times article

Before credit cards and cellphones enabled consumers to have almost anything they wanted at any time, the experience of shopping was richer, says Ms. Liebmann of WSL Strategic Retail. “You saved for it, you anticipated it,” she says.  In other words, waiting for something and working hard to get it made it feel more valuable and more stimulating.  In fact, scholars have found that anticipation increases happiness. Considering buying an iPad? You might want to think about it as long as possible before taking one home. Likewise about a Caribbean escape: you’ll get more pleasure if you book a flight in advance than if you book it at the last minute.

I totally get it.  If you’ve read a few of my other entries here, you know I joke around about loving Chipotle.  I do; I capital L Love Chipotle.  As my former work colleagues can attest, I used to get Chipotle for lunch at least twice during the work week (and then again on the weekends).  I ate there so often that the employees at the Michigan Avenue Chipotle in downtown Chicago - undoubtedly one of the busiest in the country - they knew me so well that they jokingly made me order in Spanish.  Thank God “guacamole” is the same in all languages.

But I only eat there once a week now.  And guess what?   I look forward to that burrito bowl like it’s a long-lost lover I haven’t seen in years.  I sit down with my cilantro-lime rice creation of deliciousness and watch my Real Housewives and I’m so happy that it might as well be Christmas morning.  

Of course, as a red-blooded American, I can’t escape the desire to have more - more money, more clothes, more square footage, more, more, more... So I sporadically get pangs of longing, sprinkled with guilt, to be DINKs again to satisfy those “more” desires.  And maybe we will be someday.  Who knows.  But then I remember the warmth of the bread I made from scratch, the bike riding down the Monon Trail, the couch cuddling watching the DVD at home, planting the garden with our family - all done to be more cost-conscious.  So with less money, maybe we’re richer than before.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Meaningfulness of Life, Part 1

Ian and I went to Kentucky for our one-year wedding anniversary in early July.  We visited the Maker’s Mark Distillery and tasted bourbon for the first and last time (it tasted like fire); we walked around the Perryville Civil War Battlefield; and we stayed at an amazing B&B in Springfield, Kentucky, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln - though Ian kept emphatically reminding me that Honest Abe really belongs to Illinois. We also visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a restored 19th century village scattered with original Shaker meeting houses, homesteads, and storytellers dressed in traditional clothing explaining how folks lived back then.  I’ve already mused about the Village in a previous blog post, so you can probably tell that our visit made quite an impact on me.  Indeed, I revelled in the simplicity of the Shaker lifestyle, their focus on community and family, and the pleasure they took in the relaxed, meditative pursuit of their crafts.  In many ways, their legacy reminded me of the values I’ve elevated in my decision to stay at home.

So as Ian and I walked on the Village’s rolling green Kentucky hills under the cotton-dotted blue sky, I imagined myself as a villager and wondered how my life would be different if I had lived back then. I considered the more obvious differences like wearing bonnets and being celibate like the Shakers (deal-breaker), but the isolation of 19th century villagers struck me the most.  Sitting on a shaded bench next to the gravelly central path, I couldn’t help but wonder: with no forms of mass communication or transportation back then, were life experiences more meaningful?    

21st century Annie sees New York City every day on the Today Show; I can see the sunrise over Mt. Fuji on a live Internet stream; and Facebook shows me my friend’s new haircut right after she leaves the salon.  Nothing is unavailable to me, so nothing really shocks me anymore.  I remember seeing Stonehenge in England a few years ago and thinking, “Yep, that’s Stonehenge; just like the photos.  Let’s go get a scone.”  In fact, the grandest feeling of “oh that’s cool” I’ve had lately followed seeing an iPad commercial on TV - Can you really hold that thing up to the sky at night and have it spell out the constellations for you?  Really?  

But 19th Century Annie has rarely, if ever, left her village, so she would see Stonehenge and gasp in disbelief.  She’d visit New York and feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city streets.  She might have the chance to see an exotic animal in a zoo someday, and she’d be lucky to see the face of a far-away friend once every few years or get a personal letter from her a couple times a month.  Such opportunities were rare back then, and the rarer the opportunity, the more special it becomes.  But I get emails from friends every day rather than a few letters a month; I watched the British Royal Wedding at 5am in central Mexico from my computer; and I've even seen
footage of a nearly extinct snow leopard in Asia on the Internet a few days after it was taken. The Information Age has absolved the world of rare opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know we live in a privileged time in human history.  I love being able to Skype with my friends abroad and hear about world events as they happen; I’m happy you can read this moments after I finish writing it; and I’m grateful for the medical advancements of the past hundred years that have allowed us to get sick and go the hospital rather than get sick and die.  And I know that experiencing something in person does not equate with seeing a picture in a book or a live stream on the Internet, otherwise the tourism industry would be kaput.

But part of me still wonders if the saturation of technological capabilities has diluted life’s pleasures a little bit.  Perhaps nowadays seeing something in person is just a grand expansion on the images we’ve already stored in your head - from books, TV, and the Internet - rather than being a discovery unto itself.  Google Docs just rudely underlined “internet” with a red-dotted line, demanding that I capitalize it to give it the respect it deserves.  It’s right; I should, because the Internet has made available the entire world, so nothing can be a mystery.

So perhaps a simpler life can be a more meaningful one, and maybe spending less is the first step in that pursuit.  I’ll explore that idea in my next post.  Stay tuned.