Writing: A necessity for joy

I wrote a few weeks back about my resolution to seek and fight for joy in my life.

I’m generally consider myself an optimistic person, but I can really be plagued with moments of extreme doubt.  Paralyzed almost.  And if I’m not careful, these moments can stretch longer, and have a much greater effect on everything around me. 

At the start of this year, I really resolved to seek joy, but it turns out resolving to do something doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the tools to help you get there.  For me, I’d forgotten how much writing it out really helps me process and let go of things.  It helps me give it a place. Put a name to whatever is frustrating me and then move on and do something from there.  I had a couple good friends listen as I rambled, because I just kept failing to make the time to put it down in writing, so that ultimately helped me some.  But really, writing would have been so much quicker.  Not publicly, mind you.  But at least in my personal journal.  Its been collecting dust since October. I don’t know why I always forget this. 

I went to a little round-robin clinic about different health matters lately, and one of the topics was “journaling”. 

I almost didn’t want to go to it.  Actually, I didn’t want to go to it, but it was the last one left.  So I went.  And it turns out it was just what I needed to hear. 

“Journaling shouldn’t be a burden to you, just another thing that you have to do.  It should be something that helps you be.”

That quote was like a key unlocking a deep issue I’ve had with writing.  Journaling looks so different for everyone.  I know others do this, but I find the very idea of making myself write in a journal every day to be suffocating.  Mostly because I hate anyone telling me what to do, including myself, apparently.  But II admit more importantly because I have a fear of failure and journaling is a way to blatantly record all of those messy failures.  I find old journals to be a liability.  They are evidence of an imperfect past, of my human nature and of a perspective continuously evolving that is never complete. A snippet in time that maybe, shouldn’t have been recorded because that wasn’t the end goal. That was just a post-marker. A point I needed to stop and suck air because I was so winded. And that can be hard to look back on and read. 

Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with sadness at the person I was. Which is ironic because some of my writings on subfertility are some of my most treasured possessions.

But its my nature to just get stuck right there.  And not move any further. To dwell on the negative.

And here’s the incredible irony.

By dwelling on the fact that “I’m not there yet”, in letting that negative self-talk stop me from writing down my thoughts, I fail to allow myself to process what I’m going through, therefore stunting any possibility for growth in the future. Because writing it how I process it. I just get stuck in a cycle of not moving anywhere.  This is somewhat what I was trying to touch on when I wrote this

I’m going to try to focus more on the journey, rather than just wanting immediate results. Maybe I’m finally learning that “I’m not there yet” is a straw-man argument because “there” doesn’t really exist.

Anyway, the base of it is that if writing helps you know yourself, you should do it, simply because then it allows you to be yourself.  And we need more people who are passionately themselves so they can make changes in this world.

For me, writing is a necessary step towards joy, and something that I’ve been missing. 

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I just want to clarify, since this is a public blog, that I don’t necessarily mean writing for all the world to see, but writing for myself to process complicated thoughts and emotions. I haven’t even been doing that. I strive to strike the right balance between sharing privately and publicly, because unfortunately, sometimes I think more damage than good can be done when we share immature thoughts on a public forum.

Our (East Coast) garden

On my list of the many, many things I’m trying to get accomplished lately, “build an entire new garden” suddenly got thrown in there.  I blame SmartGardener (after all my praises, yes!) because it really made me realize that I need to get on this already and so I went into a turmoil trying to get it all built. My rush was probably a little premature, because I wonder if Smart Gardener is aware of exactly how much snow has been covering our yard this winter…

Anyways, I took advantage of the last few sunny weekends and weekdays to get things moving.  After much back and forth, we decided to tear up the existing flower bed to build above ground boxes like last year instead of in ground beds like I had planned.  And unlike last year, where I basically had free (husband) labor, this year I acquired the materials and built the boxes myself! Yes, quality suffered as a result and my body was complete jelly last week, but they’re holding soil so, I didn’t do that poorly!

I don’t have a “before” picture of the massive flower bed but it was a 13 ft diameter circle completely full of an ivy ground cover and chalk full of bulbs (that we didn’t realize until we started digging it up).  Of what kind of flower, I have no idea. I sent an email out to our neighborhood with the subject “Free Bulbs” and had a few interested people come by and dig some up.  No one could identify them. Not nearly as many people came by as I was hoping for (4 total) but I was happy at least some bulbs got a new home! If we can’t eat it, we aren’t interested in it. At this point, anyway.

It was seriously back breaking work to dig the beds as the ground was so root clogged and full of bulbs that I was afraid we were going to have no soil left after we got rid of all the roots.  This was partially true. It took a week of work on my part and another full weekend of more help from my husband. Fortunately, our neighbors are doing a home addition and have a large pile of dirt we were able to supplement with.  Unfortunately, even after supplementing with compost, this soil very clayey, so I’m not sure how things will grow. I did my little soil tests and made amendments, but I guess I need to buy another kit to see what its like now.  Sometimes I miss the days of access to a water quality lab. Its killing me to pay for these tests!

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“your soil and your camera focus stink”

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boxes built and soil pathetically dug up (before my husband helped here). congrats, you have 2 12×4 ft garden boxes on a giant mud pit. i was so proud!

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and this happened. taken monday. built just in time! let’s get planting! er…

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Taken today, boxes are filled. And see? Clayey. Debating adding sand. We will also need to get the rest of the bulbs (sprigs of green) around the boxes before we spread mulch.

We also decided to do a third garden bed along the side yard.  I want to plant some tall things here to bring us a little privacy from our neighbors yard.  Corn, sunflowers, maybe some other flowers as well. This one is 12×4 ft and yes, I still need to recycle all the weeds just sitting by the side. These are some really rough “during” photos. You can also see the color difference in the soil.  I really think we are going to need to add some more topsoil to the boxes.

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Side garden bed. And yes, check out our beautiful laundry rack that I failed to fold up before it froze this way…

Just looking at those pictures at our old garden in California last year make me realize how green everything was.  Its so dreary here right now!  I am really looking forward to the spring and summer and more color!

The funk of not creating and the Age of Information Overload

I wonder if anyone else feels this way.  I’ve been in a funk of not creating lately.  At least, that’s one theory I have for feeling so off at the start of the year. Its so easy to consume consume consume on the internet to the point that you feel bloated and saturated with all sorts of random tidbits of useless knowledge. The ease with which I can access all types of information means I can swiftly gorge myself until my eyes hurt I’m sitting at the table with my buttons popped open, feeling fat and lazy and just, completely unproductive.  In my haze, its easy to become a consumer and not a creator.

I don’t want to just consume, I want to create. I want to bring something of my own to the table.

Well, duh. Then just create.

Most of last year I think this is what the internet represented to me.  Instead of relationships and support like I’ve relied on in the past, it became just a place to feel like I’m being sold something. Apparently I have an addictive personality where its easy for me to just keep clicking until I feel completely overwhelmed at all of the information on the internet that I didn’t know I needed to know! To me, this is the Age of Information Overload.

I feel good when I create, either little things like a new dinner one night or trying to knit a new article of clothing.  As much as I love parenting, it seems like one of the hardest parts is that you’re forever creating in half hour increments to keep the little one’s attention and not working on something long term, or at least something that won’t get destroyed by the end of the day. And my internet habits start to mirror that.

Without getting into a full blown discussion on the merits of stay-at-home vs. work outside the home moms (just yet! I’ll save that for later), I have found for me, finding this balance in being able to contribute to a longer-term goal is crucial to my well-being.

So, deciding what I will spend my limited time and energy on creating is one of the things that I’ve been trying to focus on recently.  Its taken effort and intention, but I feel like I’m already seeing progress on figuring it out.

This is probably such a no-brainer to people, but I guess it took time for me to realize that hey, if reading mommy and parenting blogs and signing onto Facebook with everyone’s incessant posts of “read this article” and “click on this link of lists you have to see!” are just not relevant or something I care about, then I should really just stop reading them.

Its easy to just follow the flow and be led where others are intentionally trying to lead you, rather than intentionally lead yourself to goal that you have prayerfully discerned.

Have you started your seeds yet?

Good news, there’s been a lot of changes over here, mainly to my attitude, ahem, and things are going much more joyfully.  And I’m trying to keep it up. I know I could give more details, but that’s all I’ve got right now, because….

In even BETTER news….have you guys seen this? http://www.smartgardener.com

Holy smokes, a friend casually mentioned this site to me when we were talking about starting our seeds indoors and she completely underrated it.  I thought maybe it was just going to be another one of those sites that is probably more effort than its worth. You know, put in this information and this information and we’ll tell you what they add up to!  But it turns out this pretty much organizes my entire gardening life, not to mention gives tips and pointers along the way.  And organization is something I’m chronically horrible at so, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Last year’s garden. I was pretty much winging it.

I guess another thing that made it easier is this friend and I split seeds she bought from here, so that could complicate it if you don’t have the exact plants the site recommends for purchase, but selecting something similar could possibly work. I just selected similar plants based on the seeds I got elsewhere.

Anyway, the whole site will give you a possible garden schematic if you give it your location, what plants you want, what direction is north, sunlight information, and bed dimensions.  Then it emails you a weekly to-do list in terms of soil preparation, seeding and transplanting, etc.

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This year’s garden? Ok, yeah, probably not. But one can dream.

So, pretty useful if you’re like me and find yourself just randomly seeding indoors because you can’t wait for the snow to be gone!

So have you started your seeds yet? If not, don’t worry.  And get on this site!

Here’s hoping this prevents stuff like this happening to my crack at gardening this year!

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mildew?

More real writing soon.  I don’t mean to be turning into a continuous infomercial over here!

Fighting for Joy

It has been a rough start to the year already, which is ironic since in lieu of a resolution (not like I’m the greatest at making those) the little theme I decided to go with this year was: Finding and expressing Joy.  So simple.  It can just be so hard for me.

On New Years Eve, when I came up with this theme, I was just generally feeling blah.  We’d just arrived home after a full day of travel with a busy toddler after an exhausting trip home (fun, but exhausting when we all get sick) but really, nothing was wrong.  We’d had a great trip and made it home on time and were in our warm little house while our baby slept and we had extra packages delivered so it was almost like a SECOND christmas and and AND! So many things that concretely make it a great day, but I just still couldn’t get it together.  So I forced myself to. Like I’ve wanted to every other time I’m in a funk but I just can’t always seem to make it happen. I danced like a weirdo in our living room to the old school hits that were playing on the New Year’s countdown.  And a funny thing happened. It worked.

I became happier.

More joyful. Almost just by willing it!

We had a hilarious evening and I was able to turn around what I was quickly making a frustrating evening just by shaking it off and making light of the situation.

It was just so simple.  That time.

As much as I’ve wanted to do that before, I’ve never been quite so successful at it. And I probably haven’t been as successful since then, but it was a nice way to start off the year.

And its pretty fortuitous my goal for the year is joy, because, without sounding like a total depresso, its been a hard climb to attain it since then. I’ve been failing pretty miserably since then because the predominate emotion I’ve felt lately has been anger. And frustration.  I know. Who just feels angry all the time? Me, a few weeks ago, apparently.

Just as a side-note to factor something else in, I gave up coffee at the start of the year.  Those first two weeks were brutal!

Anyways, I want to focus on joy because I felt like for so long I focused on what I didn’t have.  And that is fine, that is where I was at, and I needed to process all of it.  But, I’m not there anymore.  My situation has changed and I don’t want to just fall back into this idea of thinking that “if only I had this” then things would be different. I want to go out and do things and be genuinely happy and joyful that I can do these things, not just be thinking the whole time in the background, “This is fun and all, but I would give it all up for X.”   I want to fully find joy in the life God has given me.

I also want to control what I can control and focus on what I can act on rather than being afraid of what I can’t predict. I’ve needed to take a step back from the internet and focus more on prayer life to really figure out what I’m supposed to be doing now.  Its hard to be sure of the direction to take when the whole world is buzzing nonsense around you and everyone else is trying to share their dream, their path as the way to go.

I have way more thoughts on that, as well as some pretty concrete things I’ve narrowed down that were contributing to the feeling of anger. I will hopefully write more about those shortly.

To what do I owe this two post blogging streak?

I know, I know, I’m on here like ALL THE TIME now people.  I just wanted to give a little peek behind the scenes a la casa Moonheads and reveal why I’ve had such abundant time to chatter away on the blog….

Voilà.

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I give you, our new dishwasher.  Floor model, baby.  And worth every penny.

And to think, I was the biggest holdout. Whoops, that was a mistake!

I thought it would take up too much space.  We have to hand wash so many things that couldn’t fit in a dishwasher anyway I didn’t think it would save us any time. We only have a few dishes that we use regularly anyway, and I cook from scratch for almost every meal, so I thought the dishwasher would never be full enough to have clean dishes ready when I need them.  I can wash dishes pretty fast anyway so, what was the biggie. And then we needed to get a portable dishwasher so I just thought it would be too awkward to roll it across the kitchen and hook it up every time.

It turns out, in case you needed convincing, that dishwashers really do save you a lot of time!

My husband has been begging to get one since we moved here. Although I resisted for a while, I had eventually acquiesced and told him to just go ahead already a few months ago. Alas, I tend to be the mover and shaker around here, so that date never really happened. Until about two weeks ago. We looked on craigslist, as misfit would do, but once we realized people were selling several years and owners old dishwasher for a few hundred (seriously? no thanks), we decided to just get a new one and resell it ourselves when we move. Enter discount floor model at the Sears Outlet and blam-o.  Done deal. Besides almost squashing my husband on the stairs when we moved it in. Whoops.  Sorry about that hun. My fingers were reeeeallly cold.

We still have those issues that I was afraid of though and I’ve had to hand wash a few pots and bowls like I expected, but hey, I’m used to that. What I’ve been most excited about is just having more counter space!  I want to share soon how we’ve organized this tiny living space, but having an extra place to store dishes let alone have a surface to prepare food with (no more Kitchen Aid on the floor people!) was almost worth it alone.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering why I’m writing.

Its because I’m not washing dishes.

Ravelry and how I taught myself to knit

I’ve tried to put all my knitting projects up here in the past, but I’m trying to transfer it all over to my Ravelry account because it’s just a more consistent way to store all my projects.

Have you heard of Ravelry.com?

If you haven’t, and are interested in knitting or crochet, definitely check it out! I stumbled upon it when I was trying to learn several years ago and didn’t quite realize what a gold mine it is.  No less than all of the yarn stores I’ve walked into since then have all recommended going on there to get information about a project before you start.  I think they have every single pattern out there, many for free and others listed to buy.

The greatest part about it is you can look up a project and see who else has knit it and what they thought of the pattern.  Was it complicated to knit? A quick mindless pattern? Were some of the measurements off?

For example, I wanted to knit Sam a sweater for this year.  Unlike last year, where his sweater was just for kicks, he really needed one here because it actually gets cold. Like, below 40 and stuff. And lo and behold, this winter has been particularly cold.  So I check out toddler sweaters and find one I like.  This Everyday Pullover Sweater seemed interesting enough (read: two colors) but simple (just stripes) to get done quickly.

pulloverOn the right side there is a box that says “About this pattern” where you can get the average rating (what people thought of the pattern as a whole) and the average difficulty level (I like this green bar to be tiny!). And right beneath that is how many people have attempted and documented this project.  This pattern has 138 projects.  Click here or at the tab on the top and you can see what other people did with this same pattern.  Some people modify the pattern slightly and come up with some great projects!

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This feature is GREAT if you’re like me and completely incapable of envisioning what certain colors look like together.  I swear I have so many craft project ideas that get stalled out in the “but what color should I make it?” category! By looking at this project page I was able to tell before I started the pattern that I should likely make the sleeves smaller for my lean guy since many knitters were commenting how large and puffy the sleeves were. So I was able to make that adjustment to the pattern by decreasing stitches on the armhole before  I started knitting and voila! Save myself a bunch of time on a pattern and it actually fits!

So this is my Ravelry plug :)  I love this site for getting ideas for my next projects too as there is an option to browse and file away patterns for future use.  Since I’m next in line for a sweater (remember my husband’s year long sweater?) I’ve been trying to decide the exact sweater that I will love in order to make the effort worth it (and that won’t go out of style before I finish it!).  I really like this long faroese sweater, its just beautiful.  And this Paulie Cardigan is cute, but I’m having a hard time deciding on what colors I would do (see?). And I wonder if its too trendy.  If I were a really experienced knitter, I would LOVE to try a traditional Icelandic sweater since they are so gorgeous!  But I’ll probably save that one for a few years from now.  I’m likely going to do this Hepburn sweater since it seems simpler, yet flattering and has a yoke in one piece (I hate stitching together knit pieces).  But again, color??

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I’m often asked if I can teach people to knit.  I can! I’m actually thinking about hosting a knitting class I get this so often (although maybe people are being nice…) But in the meantime I highly recommend the way I taught myself. Cyber Seams! There are great little videos that you can watch that have techno music as the background instead of some odd voice randomly saying “now put the needle through here and under here” while you shout “where? WHERE???”  Plus with videos you can hit repeat and practice as much as you need to without admitting how long it REALLY took you to figure out what was going on :) I also bought a cheap “How to knit” book at Tuesday Morning but I’m sure any knitting book from Amazon or your local craft store will be as useful.  Honestly, I learned more from the videos, but having the pictures in hand were nice to jog my memory instead of re-watching the whole video.

My final recommendation for new knitters is to just pick an easy pattern (like this Felicity hat would be great) and just try to get through it.  And use cheap yarn, because then you won’t care as much :) Resist every perfectionist urge to rip it out and start over if you make a mistake because the main goal is just to FINISH a project to build confidence in the fact that it can be done.  Quality will come with practice.  This is going to take time folks!  Best of luck!

Also, if anyone out there is already on Ravelry, I’ve been updating my profile over time with all my projects I’ve done, so check it out! My profile name is alisoneleanore.

So, what sweater should I make next?  Do you use Ravelry already?  Is there a site like this for other crafts? Please don’t say Pinterest.

The downside of righteous eating

My husband came across this article a few months back and shared it with me after a discussion about food.  It helped me learn a new word. Orthorexia nervosa, the extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy or the fixation on righteous eating.

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To be fair, the author of “Health Food Junkies” Dr. Steve Brautman coined the term, so maybe there was a reason I hadn’t heard of it before.  But I’ve suspected that something like it exists for a while now.  The examples cases of the people given in a few articles about the phenomena seem extreme, but I would be lying if I didn’t see the potential for the quest to rid your body of unhealthy toxins spin out of control.  It makes sense that this disorder stems from a need for control. When you’re feeling not in control of certain part of your life, you can easily try to over control other aspects of your life.  And our food choices matter because you are what you eat.  And healthy food can heal us.

But is food the only thing that heals us?

I first started looking into healthier real food eating as a way to help fix the problems that were present in my cycle, in hopes of helping us conceive when we were dealing with primary infertility. Finding non-invasive solutions to infertility and other diseases aren’t the only things that drive people to perfect diets. Genuine desire to increase the sustainability of food practices, concern of the ethical treatment of animals, and the quest for personal discipline can all be factors as well. None of these things are evil intentions, but how does it affect our interactions with others?

Simply glossing over the impact that sharing food has and the generosity of others. I’ve thought more and more recently as I bring food over to families and friends in need, “I hope they’re not allergic to this” and “I hope they eat this in their diets”. Reading food blogs apparently isn’t all puppies and daisies.  You’re apt to build a complex on the food your generously providing others instead of focusing on the more important thing.  You’re generously providing food and loving and serving others, usually with the intent to help them in a difficult situation.

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The other day a friend who was moving called to ask if I wanted some of the food that was in her freezer.  “I have some beef that is organic, but not grassfed, is that OK? Will you still eat it?”  I answered wholeheartedly that I of course would take it!

Score! I thought.  And then I wondered, Would someone actually refuse this gift? That seemed crazy to me, but the longer I thought about it I knew there was a reason she felt compelled to ask the question.

When we make someone a meal, I believe that the time spent planning, buying, preparing, and offering it to others is a real gift of love. What are we missing out on, when we reject this gift? And how many people get so worried about how their food will be received, that they just don’t bring food? How much less love is in the world because we are paralyzed by fear of rejection and don’t even make the meal in the first place? An opportunity to offer and accept healing from others is lost. In some ways I see parallels with my own concerns about hosting others at my house, and how I used to miss out on the opportunity to serve and commune with others due to my own fears.

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For me, it all really comes down to this, there is nothing more traditional, communal, and healing than sitting down to a meal together:

Ultimately, a rules-based approach to food misses some of the most important things about food: that it is a gift of God to be received with gratitude and pleasure, and that food brings people together. It’s no accident that Jesus gave us a meal by which to participate in being his body and blood: sharing a meal, in every culture, is a sign of community and belonging. Drinking the cup and eating the bread allows us to participate, somehow, in the life of God in Christ, but it also connects us to one another, and that’s a kind of connection that doesn’t happen only around the communion table. It happens every time food is shared.

- Rachel Marie Stone

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Even for a Church who believes in the acts of fasting and abstinence as a reflection of interior conversion and repentance, Canon law very specifically include guests at a meal as those who are excused from fasting or abstinence.

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Our Church recognizes the overall intention of the meal and the importance of showing love to our neighbor by accepting their gift of love in return as more important that dietary restrictions, even for the highest goal of serving God.

Can food heal us? Yes.  But so can loving others.

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So what do I do?

I know I am responsible for the food purchases and items I bring into our home and I choose them because I believe they offer the most nutritional value and nourishment for all involved.  I do my own research to the best of my ability to help make these decisions wisely. However, I also make a point to accept gifts from others.

This fall I’ve been saying that I’ve gone “gluten-lite”, meaning my home and the food I tend to cook is gluten-free, but when I’m outside of it, all rules are off. If there is a gluten-free option I will choose it, but if not, I will eat what’s available. If I had a severe allergic reaction or couldn’t breathe when eating a certain food, obviously I would change this, but I’m fortunate enough not to have this issue. I’m unfortunate enough to be trying to self-diagnose.

The tricky part about this is that, if I know a friend has an allergy, I do my best to prepare food that they can consume. Funny enough, it is when these gifts of specially prepared, diet-criteria fitting foods are rejected that I feel the most dejected.

However, all this is a little bit ironic to write about at this moment. Yesterday my husband and I started an elimination diet with the goal of flushing out our systems, allowing our stomachs to heal, and to hopefully properly diagnosis allergies/autoimmune issues to specific foods by reintroducing them slowly instead of just randomly eliminating them, as I and many others have done in the past. I write this to help me remember to not become over legalistic in what we consume. I actually started this diet several weeks after a few other people I know looking into other health issues (we all shared a bulk purchase of beef bones to make broth – look at that, weird diets bringing people together!) since we were invited to two parties this past weekend and I didn’t want want to have to reject the invitations or not participate fully because of this experimental, temporary diet change.The next two weeks are clear right now so it seemed like a good time to start. I don’t know what I’ll do right now if that changes.

I know this topic touches on the brink of individual rights and responsibilities, informed consumerism, and group think, but I think the quote by Rachel Marie Stone really sums it up for me.