Historical Femininity
Beauty & Fashion • Lifestyle • Spirituality/Belief
The Effect of Modern Culture on Food
November 10, 2022
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fruit salsa - my picture

Modern culture has had a profound effect on food and the way we eat it.   As we explore women's historical contributions to the family and society at large, our first stop has to be nutrition.   Women are still, by and large, the ones who are in charge of seeing that their families are fed and monitoring their overall health.   

The way we eat, however, has changed from traditional habits.  Let's take a look at how we eat now, then look at the traditional model of food.

Modern Culture

Modernity values money and fame over anything else.   The pursuit of money is the proper focus of the modern person, and that means that our relationship to food has changed.   In modernity, the time that it takes to make a traditional diet is a deal-breaker.   Instead, we value convenience.   

In the 80s and 90s, "convenience" tended to mean meals that could be prepared in approximately 30 minutes - something that could be made quickly after a work shift.    Now, "convenience" has begun to mean meals that are largely outsourced - we eat out an average of 5.9 times per week.  If we choose not to eat in a restaurant, we can have our food delivered to us.   

Our imaginary eater chooses between a SAD (standard American diet) rich in carbs, fats, and sodium (think fast food, or the boxes in the center aisles of the grocery store) and a designer diet - likely an elimination diet of some kind.   The designer diets change over the years - there's always the "latest hot trend", whether that's South Beach, Macrobiotic, Keto, or raw veganism.  Because our imaginary eater values money over all things, they are choosing between convenience or trendiness... either spending as little as possible on food or choosing a conspicious display - everyone knows those diets are expensive to maintain.

In modernity, we simply assume that food can - and should - be available instantly.  It should be prepared quickly.   It is not something we should need to focus on - although we might choose to focus on it.  (In other words, food preparation has become a hobby).   Food as a hobby is highly thought of, and keeping a pet sourdough was all the rage during the COVID years.   This expresses itself in hours of time spent working on a special meal or meals, it almost never expresses itself in daily life.  

Food as hobby has bred the expectation that luxury food items, such as out-of-season produce and costly cuts of meat, should be available at all times.  There is no moment of excitement in "the asparagus is ready", because fresh asparagus is always a choice at hand.  It has to be - because who knows when the muse will strike?   

Modernity exists in a permanent state of feasting.   There is always an abundance of food, and FOMO (fear of missing out) chases us.  Have you tried Ethiopian cuisine?  Guamanian?  Do you leave each meal completely full, having extracted every tiny morsel of french-fry driven pleasure on a given Tuesday?   As we are in a perpetual state of "feast", our communal and seasonal feasts lose meaning - after all, nothing is special if abundance is the norm.  

Traditional Cultures

Contrast the modern way of eating with traditional.   Most traditional foods take a long time to prepare, although much of this time is spent waiting and monitoring.   Traditional lifestyles sometimes dedicate long hours to the work of cooking, but as time is precious, day to day foods tend to be cooked in quantity, cooked ahead, or can be put together and then monitored.   The exceptions to this are when one or two women are in charge of feeding a large family or a group of people doing heavy labor who need a substantial amount of calories - a classic division of labor.   

A traditional diet is rich in whole grains, beans, vegetables and possibly dairy products.  Fruit and meat and sweets are ornaments.   This of course varies between locations - the ancient Irish "white diet" with its emphasis on milk products in every form and the traditional Egyptian diet, heavy on wheat products, reflect their environments.   What is consistent is that there is a lot of plain food, heavy use of condiments (herbs, cooked vegetables, pickles), and that feasts are occasional, not daily.   Fermented foods are found in every culture.   

Traditional breads, cheeses, preserved foods can be made ahead and then eaten throughout the week.  Soups and porridge are put on and simmered throughout the day.  "Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old".   Vegetable foods are a staple of traditional diets whereever it is warm enough to grow vegetables.   The Irish ate colcannon of turnips and onions and cabbage before the potato came to town, and kale is a Scottish staple.   Vegetable foods are often integrated with fats and meats to extend the meat/fat - consider stuffed cabbage leaves or virtually any soup.  

Food was, and is, a central occupation in traditional societies.  This occupation begins with gardening and keeping animals, extends to food preservation (drying, fermenting, canning, salting, etc) and then moves to daily meals.   Food was understood to affect health, and nourishment is taken seriously in traditional food preparation.  The condiments were often prepared from a variety of herbs and the amount of herbs consumed in traditional condiments is far higher than a sprinkling of oregano over a roasted chicken.   An individual, normal Tuesday's food might not be the focus of Tuesday, but food for the family was always on the traditionalist's mind.  The hearth was the center of the home.

In traditional societies, feasts are very important times to gather families and communities.  It takes a group to put together a good feast, and this time is not only celebratory, it's a time to bond.   Feasts and fasts are cyclical - it's not always a time of abundance, but when it is, you stop and enjoy it.   This elevates the importance of food.   

Traditional societies invest in feeding their bodies.

The Exchange

As women have become primarily consumers, we've traded our positions as rulers of the hearth for the freedom to pursue wealth.   This trade, and our migration away from our ancestral homes, has gradually changed our diets.  Has the trade been to our benefit?

I will leave that decision, and the choices that may follow, to the reader.


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Feasts, Fasts & Normalcy

Thanksgiving gave me occasion to think about feasts, fasts & normalcy.   It wasn't much of a feast this year, as I'm armchair-quarterbacking and my mom is waiting on a knee replacement.   I am not allowed to stand for long (cooking = standing) and she shouldn't.   My son did well in his learning, my husband and daughter stood up and helped... but my memory is filled with proper feasting, and this was a simple family dinner.   That is fine, the last few years have been full of simple things standing in for big celebrations.   Sometimes the absence of the thing that one is supposed to be observing makes the observation sharper.   And time to sit and think is invariably valuable.    When celebration time comes 'round again, I will be ready.  Celebrations are owed...  

I am heartily tired of sitting and thinking these things through - but it is well enough, it's a spaghetti monster of confusion.   Our culture doesn't lend itself to clarity of thought when it comes to consumption.   Modernity is utterly broken when it comes to food.  We're all at sixes and sevens.   So let us talk of feasts, fasts and normalcy.


Feasts are our special days.   You're supposed to eat special things on feast days.   Eat your fill, and then some.   Whenever I hear someone advising moderation on a feast day, I want to throw a bun at their head.  That's not the purpose of feast days - and in a properly ordered life, overindulgence on a feast doesn't affect your health*.   It's not the feast that's out of proportion - it's your normal life.  

Feasts aren't supposed to be every day, or even every week.   They aren't supposed to be the same.   It is right and proper that feasts should have different centerpieces.   They should be different, not just from normal life, but from one another.   What we do now is find reasons to feast all too often, and then the act of feasting stops being special.    It's also what sets you up for dietary failure - if every day is cake and champagne, the cake stops being so sweet, the champagne no longer tickles your nose, and your insulin sensitivity gets wrecked.   The only thing happy is your tongue.. and your grocer/baker/sommelier.   

A feast is a celebration.   Feast days should be celebrated not merely at the dinner table, but in other ways.   We are to set apart feast days.   In this way, modernity has most profoundly deserted the feast day.   Our melange of cultures, while beautiful in its own right, has left us without an understanding of "how to celebrate".   Shall I do it this way or this other?   Sometimes we end up sitting the whole thing out.   And then the feast day becomes simply a meal. 

One of the nicest ways to celebrate is by bringing people together who do not ordinarily see one another.   It is this interaction that helps create a celebration.   If you are a guest at a feast, you are helping create the festive atmosphere - act accordingly!   Feast days are meant to be celebrated in community.   Food-sharing is one of the primal bits of glue that holds society together.   Potlucks aren't "less-than" - they're community builders!  And this is where the melange of cultures becomes its most beautiful - as we move through other celebrations as guests, we gain appreciation for different reasons to celebrate and different ways of celebration.   Just clue the guests in on what's expected, please.   

But each type of feast is proper in its own right - not every festival is a potluck.  Sometimes one hosts a special night to honor someone or some event.   We need patterns and differentiation between feasts, just as we do between feasts, fasts and normalcy.    Birthdays and Christmas may be, in my family, only a few weeks apart - but one doesn't celebrate them the same way!  Nor should you.   

Humans need feasts to be human.   We need a time to come together over the table and break bread, to laugh, to share drink, to dance.   Feasts are the bright lights in our gustatory lives.  We feast not for our bodies, but for our hearts.


Fasts are not the opposite of feasts as one might think, because like a feast, a fast should be a special occasion.  Fasting is a time set apart for the work of self-discipline and contemplation.   Properly, it is a reset of one's priorities, placing the will over the body.   Most religions have a tradtion of fasting, either cyclically or as needed.    This is because a soul left at the whims of the body is a childish, weakened thing, fit for no spiritual work whatsoever. 

Unfortunately, although fasting is a part of all traditional religions, modern practice has left fasting behind.  Full days of fasting became abstention from a particular food group, then that abstention became less and less, until we can feel virtue for giving up a minor luxury.   It is not what is abstained from that gives the spiritual discipline worth, it is the reordering of will over body, spirit over flesh.   Every culture that fasts exempts children, pregnant/lactating women, and the infirm from some if not all fasting.  This is because their bodies must be stewarded, and that discipline of being left out is in itself a discipline.  (I'm not at all enjoying my enforced rest - I would much rather have been on my feet all of yesterday cooking a feast, and my appetite in this time of healing is preposterous, even as my clothing fits just as it did).   So, it is not "what" but "that it is a challenge", when one contemplates the metaphysical benefits of the fast.

But the body, like the soul, benefits from a fast.   Ketosis (which can be entered into simply by not eating at all) benefits the digestion, the immune system, the mind.   Many people find themselves able to enter into much deeper concentration and hold higher levels of energy on a fast.   I expect that as we continue to investigate scientifically, we'll find more bodily benefits from food restriction.   After the period of adjustment, the body responds to being put in its proper place with gratitude.   

A fast can be a time to set one's mind in order, it can be a time to get right with God (in repentance, in petition), it can be a time to reset one's bodily cravings so that they are in right order.   But a fast is not forever.   We must eat, and a never-ending fast would lose its meaning.   Feasts, fasts and normalcy are all part of life.   


And thus to "how then shall we live"?  Take heart, my friends.  I am not going to give you yet another prescriptive.   I have gleaned some wisdom over 50 years, which I shall share - but how shall I speak to your life when my floor is unswept?   (In other words, I'm not a slim maiden with perfect blood sugar, and I'm not going to pretend to be someone I'm not or speak ex cathedra).

First, what is normalcy?  It is that state that is neither fast nor feast.   The dieters want to make the fasts "normal" and the gluttons want to make "everyday special".   Neither is the way forward.  I've been on extremely restrictive diets, both long term and short.   The result?  Well, the long-term restrictive diet was helpful while I was on it.. but otherwise, one greedily returns to all that one foreswore.   Normalcy is not meant to be void of gustatory pleasure.   Neither is it supposed to be cake and roast beast for breakfast.

These are the things that I have learned, whether or not I practice it as I ought:

  • Processed food that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize is almost invariably something you should avoid eating.   If you like it, add it to your festive spread.   This includes GMOs, meat from animals in CAFO feeding lots, boxed items with ingredients with too many syllables and intentionally indigestible items.   You may eat items that someone else's great-grandmother ate, especially if she was from another culture.   It's all about "pre-1930".  
  • Less sugar = More Better.   I like sugar.  Sugar is not our friend and great-great-great grandma didn't eat very much of it.   We all know it.  The list of "this isn't awesome" is very, very long.   Figure out how "less sugar" can integrate in your diet while not turning your normalcy into a fast.   I have recommendations - read on.
  • More veggies = More Better.   For a few months of that long-term diet, I was asked to eat a really insane amount of vegetables.  It was about 10 servings or more a day.   PILES of vegetables.  Enough vegetables that the first week was physically uncomfortable.  I have never felt better in my life (after my stomach figured out what to do with all that roughage).   I had so much energy.  I felt insanely healthy.   Research suggests that we really can't eat too much fiber.   I looove veggies and I don't eat as many of them as I did back then - veggie mountains aren't "quick and easy".   Eating like that takes work.   Work I am looking forward to as I return to health next year.   
  • Ancestral diets are worth looking into.   PROPER ancestral diets, before we started exchanging foods quite so much.  (Medieval is a good aim).   This is not as a fast, not even as a total prescriptive, it just gives you a starting point.   We have blended our lives to the point that I hear all about the evils of dairy, when my ancestors ate it at virtually every meal.   Oh, I've done Whole 30, and while wheat isn't exactly a bosom buddy, my family insists I never go off of whole-fat milk products ever again.  The point is that while most of the world doesn't have the gene to digest dairy products, I do.  So, I'm feeding me (and my family, who share my genes) on normal days, and therefore knowing what my folk ate back in the day is useful.   There are plenty of folk whose digestion is well suited to a diet heavy on grains, fruits and very light indeed on meat and animal fat.   Let's support one another rather than squabbling.
  • Fermented foods and use of herbs and spices is much more important than we think, and reintegrating as much of both as possible is only to our benefit.   More mushrooms would also benefit us tremendously.   These highly flavorful elements make a poor diet for abstention - how restricted do you feel when savoring pesto and chimmichurri sauce?  Normal diets, full of nutrition, aren't meant to be fasts.

I am preparing, lounging on my couch, to move forward and find a new normal.   An invalid's extremely odd diet isn't business as usual, and when I tried to eat "normally" it didn't work out well.   So where do I start with my "new normal"?   That normal won't be a restrictive diet.   Before I challenge myself to retake ground lost to circumstance, I need to establish a baseline.   A "normal" I can live with, a "normal" I can return to.   It's not good for me to move between restriction and "everyday is special".   Too many of us can sing that song, and our metabolisms are much the worse.  We lost the concept of "feasts, fasts and normalcy" and fell on our faces.   It's time to pick ourselves up.

I need a healthy diet with a bit of fun.   Perhaps I might cut the sugar out of most of my diet and leave myself a bit of jam with afternoon tea?   Weekdays have one sort of breakfast, weekends quite another.   How many veggies can I squeeze in?   What kind of rituals can I set up to honor the pattern of my life, my energy needs, and what I know to be healthiest for my body?   It's worth my while to contemplate - I only get one body for this lifetime.

After I find "normal" again, I can return to fasting and relearn that discipline and enjoy the fruits of the peace it brings.  Only after I find "normal" again, and search out that which exceeds it, will feasts be restored to their meaning.   I've learned quite a lot from the years that have gone by, and as much from the celebrations that missed the mark as the ones that were nearly perfect.   For now, for this season of feasting, I will eat a bite and a sup and I will wait......... but you don't have to. 

So to you I ask, what is your concept of feasts, fasts and normalcy?   How can you bring all three to their fullest flower in your life?



*I'm not talking about people with diabetes or special diets.  They must, regrettably, monitor themselves at all times.   I'm talking about the "everybodys".

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November 18, 2022
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Progression of Disrespect
Out of Sight, Out of Mind



The Progression of Disrespect Damages Us

Women need respect because women are humans.   Humans need respect because, as communal creatures, the opinions of the people around us determine our incomes, our positions in society, how much we are given (leeway, grace, casseroles), how much is expected of us (excellence, time, amusement), how we marry, and how our children move through the world - just as a start.  It has been said that women value love over respect, which may be true - but it doesn't mean that the absence of one or the other is an acceptable way to live.  If women are not given respect for what they do, they will do something else until they find that respect... or a facsimile thereof.

I've pondered the respect issue for quite some time.  If you look back on history, you won't exactly find that women are considered the equal of men, especially in public life.  However, what you will find is that women were respected for being good at women-things.  A good wife is worth more than rubies... can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy... is that girl you're staring at going to make your life run well?   It's not like you can write off the contributions of half the human race and get anywhere.  That's ridiculous.

A Progression of Disrespect

Can we pinpoint, exactly, when respect dissolved?   No.   However, a pattern emerges - a progression of disrespect, if you will.  In the base state of things, everyperson's competence at doing life is assumed.  Individual differences of course - Bob is better at building houses than Larry, and Mary is a much better cook than Diane.  But we assume at this base state that Larry can build and Diane can cook, even if they're not the best in the world.  They're competent.   I don't wander in and tell Diane how to sift flour just off the street.  When we assume competence, the position of advisor must be earned.

The first stage of disrespect is "experting".  This feels helpful.  I have a library of books on "how to" do things.  But experting goes beyond just a "how to" book, and sets "should" standards.   Consider child-rearing manuals throughout the 20th century (and shudder).   The experts know more than you do, and their way of doing things is the Only Right Way.  Now, as an "expert", I can order Diane to sift her flour three times before even considering baking a cake.  Instead of summarily throwing this stranger out of her house, as I am an expert she'll bow and scrape - and do exactly what I tell her to.  Relationship?  I don't need one.  I'm an "expert".

The second stage of disrespect is out-sourcing, which comes with a set of sub-stages.   In out-sourcing, as an expert, I start by telling dear Diane that the only way to bake a really lovely cake is to buy my cake-flour.  It's too much trouble for her to sift it, and she's never going to do so properly.   But I, and my flour, are here to save her.   In subsequent stages of outsourcing, I gradually take over other parts of the process until Diane, knowing her own innate incompetence, gives up and buys cake from my bakery.  

The third stage of disrespect is denigration.   Baking is for losers.  It's a waste of your time and effort.  Now that the entire process is out of sight, now that Diane (or more probably, her granddaughter) is utterly unfamiliar with the ingredients and wouldn't recognize the difference between a Twinkie and a homemade sponge cake, now she's going to start looking at cake as just another commodity.  Cheapest, quickest, most convenient.   Because she's buying like that, fewer and fewer quality options become available.   Because what she's buying is very low quality, it is only natural that Diane Jr. thinks of baking as a waste of time.  She does more important things, like filing papers and answering phones.*  Baking is out of sight, out of mind - and so is the baker.

Clothing as Example

Originally, women were in charge of the entire process of making clothing, from growing flax (or keeping sheep) through making cloth and sewing it up.   This very valuable commodity, cloth, was so ubiquitously in the hands of women that "distaff" (which is a term for the stick you hold your fiber-to-be-spun on) is a synonym for "pertaining to women".   The cloth trade is recorded as far back as 1900 BC, there are notes about this in Cuneiform (from a woman to her husband - so much for treating women's contributions with disrespect). 

Gradually, clothing became "experted".  Books and articles were written to teach women how to sew "properly" - with details that extended to stitch length and direction.   Magazines circulated with the latest fashions, and women were expected to dress like other ladies of their social class.   Colors, hemlines, even modesty was determined by experts - not the women themselves.

The first stage of outsourcing was a dependence on dressmakers and tailors, at least for certain articles of clothing.   These professionals had the tools, materials, and skills that a woman at home would be unlikely to have at her disposal - if she had the time to create more than basics.  (From experience, I can tell you that sewing a wardrobe, even with modern appliances, takes a lot of time.  It takes me a full day of work to sew a shirt for my husband, for example).  

The second stage of outsourcing was the introduction of ready-made clothing.   This occurred not more than 150 years ago - it hasn't been long!  While women retained their skill at sewing, they could recognize well-made garments.   I can recall being shown the difference between a well-sewn and poorly sewn seam (in the era before sergers) and taught how to check the quality of fabric.   I also remember buying fabric with my mother, as she had it made by a dressmaker (the expert) instead of being dependent on the department stores.    At this point, although most of the work was done by experts, good work was valued and understood because of a basic understanding of the task at hand.

Eventually, almost all of us bought most of our clothing ready made, and fewer and fewer could so much as sew on a button.   The sewing trade disappeared behind closed doors, and then those doors moved overseas.   Creating clothing is out of sight - out of mind... and horrors ensue.   Clothing is worth nothing.  Creating clothing has been reduced to a hobby.   The respect for the process of making the sort of clothes we wear on a daily basis has completely eroded.  The progression of disrespect completes with vast heaps of discarded clothing crowding our landfills and filling our water with microplastics.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Where you spend your time is where you give attention.  Attention begets respect.   As "real life" moved out of the home and into the office, our attention moved to how to win respect in that venue.  All humans require respect - and women gradually had respect withdrawn from their lives.  Where once we were needed and relied upon for our skill, wisdom, and productivity, we became mere ornaments -   "Angels of the Household".   The less time spent at home, the less respect was given to homemakers - and soon, housewives were considered a luxury good, a waste of a good mind.

Is it any wonder that women, given no respect for what they'd been doing for thousands of years, stopped doing this work and clamored for work that would bring them respect?   Occupation that would bring them into association with others, connection.  Humans need community.  Year after year, homemakers became progressively more isolated.   They complain of never having adult conversations and suffer from loneliness and self-doubt.   The progression of disrespect has reaped a fine harvest.

So we must ask ourselves, is the work of homemaking worth doing?  If, upon careful examination, we decide that we do need someone to concentrate on raising children, to foster social connection within community and extended family, to keep a close eye on the food we nourish ourselves with and be conscious to minimize waste and maximize resources, we will need to return respect to the position.  We require nourishment to the spirit as well as to the body. 

If we decide that none of these things are important, we can go on as we have.  Soon enough we will own nothing and care not - because our homes will be irrelevant.   Totally dependent on what we find in the marketplace for our food, the coverings for our body, totally dependent on experts to raise our children, we will take what is on offer because we will have no capacity to do anything else.  And where will the progression of disrespect take all of humanity, when that is complete?

Choose you this day... personally, I think developing respect is a wiser plan.



*I have spent plenty of my professional life answering phones and filing papers.  Work done well is honorable.  But do you really think filing paper is more important than the food you put in your mouth?  If so, we need to talk.

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November 03, 2022
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According to Your Station
What is Your Station in Life?

Act According to Your Station In Life

I came across this concept in reading some Catholic theology over the past week.   I'm not Catholic, so I hadn't heard this put in so many words before.   "Act according to your station in life" ... act properly, in order, according to who you are.  That seems like a sensible thing to do, when reordering one's life.  However, there's a caveat... the first thing you have to do is figure out who you are!

That's where we fall down.   Our world is not set up to give us a rightly ordered view of ourselves.   Instead of thinking of myself as a respectable matron with a certain set of skills, my mind goes immediately to 1) my to-do list and 2) that I am "only" xyz.  I don't think, "I am the homemaker, therefore I have a right responsibility to ensure that my home is made according to my standards".  No, I think, "dangit, the kitchen is dirty".    The task gets in the way of the station, when it should be the other way around.   In fact, I don't even have to do the dishes... I just have to see that they get done, so that my kitchen is ordered according my needs and standards.  

Simiarly, I don't think of myself as a writer or content creator, which would mean that if I were acting according to my station in life, I would spend a certain amount of time creating content.  I think of myself as someone who writes and who creates content.   It's not who I am, it's something I do.  And yes, that makes a very large difference in how I behave.   Chew on that for yourself, in context of your own identifiers.    Perhaps we could start with, "I am a woman" vs. "I do woman-things".  

Acting according to one's station in life also includes not overburdening oneself and overscheduling to the eyeballs.  While there are seasons in life where there's just too much to do, those seasons are extras, not normative.   Ex:  I am a matron with a part-time job.  Also, my husband is unwell, and I need to care for his needs.   The sick husband isn't part of who I am, it's not part of my station.  Caring for my husband is part of my proper duties, but it is exceptional that I am doing more than I normally would.  We should have our eyes on that "normal", even when life isn't "normal".   (That was an example, the hubs is fine).

That's a failing of modernity.   We don't look for our normal, we burden ourselves to the eyeballs.  Then when exceptional circumstances arise, we don't have the spare time and resources to deal with them, because we're already maxed out on what we've determined is 'normality'.   I have done this to myself in any number of life seasons.   I have actually had to have a color-coded weekly schedule so I know where I'm supposed to be at any one moment of my day.   That's not a good "normal" - because it doesn't allow any flexibility for the inevitable extras that every life includes.    And it's not a good representation of my station in life, because the proper order of my existence means that I should have the ability to reach out to others around me.

Another aspect of acting according to our stations is working on the duties we are properly given.  What are your priorities?  Do those mirror who you are and your proper duties?   Or do you get easily distracted and set out on other things?   We know that our first duties are to our families, ourselves, and our God.  After that, our duties include jobs we have agreed to take on, whether paid or not.  Your stage in life and circumstances will determine how many resources you have to deal with matters outside those circles.   You might have rather a lot - in which case, those things are yours.  You might not.   Should you scant your duty to attend to a distraction?    We are always on the lookout for something "more", when we might well be satisfied with what is already in our hands.

How could you act according to your station this week?

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