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Reinventing The Wheel

By Brooke Benton

My dryer broke yesterday—out of nowhere. I plopped two wet tablecloths and loads of sodden dishtowels into its pockmarked basin, clicked the knob to extra dry, pushed the button, and… nothing.

I checked the plug, the outlet, the robot looking tube snaking out its back, clicked the circuit breaker back and forth, did it again, and… nothing.

The house became my clothesline, my banisters and kitchen chairs draped with checks and stripes and quilted cloth when my friend arrived for a visit and proclaimed it all so charming.

“Oh,” I said, “My dryer broke.”

“You know,” she said, “I think that dryers are optional.”

It’s true. As I folded their naturally starched edges into crisp little rectangles, I thought about how easy the hanging out—the gathering done quickly while my linens laid in plain sight, not hidden for me to discover in a metallic hollow, and I thought another thought: of how needless the dryer.

Convenient? Oh, so, totally. But necessary? Not on this Tuesday I guess.

***

My sister has this theory. It’s a free-formed theory that I’ve (very creatively) decided to call the banana theory. And it goes something like this:

Heavenly Father created the perfect snack for us when he made the naturally encased, nutritious and sustaining pale yellow banana: portable, full of good stuff, easy. And yet, some genius still went and invented the banana-flavored energy bar.

Why? Seems we sullied up something lovely and divine for a man-made, chemically packaged counterpart.

***

My children watched Swiss Family Robinson last night because I’ve always wanted them to see the cleverness of that tree house! Weighted buckets and ladder like stairs, a moon roof cut from palm thatches, the way water dances and climbs— from river to wheel to cup to barrel— and dumps from suspended bucket to tortoise shell sink.

Indeed the kids loved it. And their minds brimmed with the possibilities of our four huge backyard trees, and fantastic inventions were conceived even as they were spoken, so exciting and so… basic, if you thought about it.

The amazing to my children would be swapping roof for dark night, and sleeping under stars. The impossible dream would be moving away from all our plug-ins to open-air walls and candle lit evenings to the tune of a cricket chirp, a rustle of wind.

Something primal draws them out; something in that Swiss Family Robinson (oh, adaptable as they were) drew them in—pushed them to create a home laden with the notion of “modern” convenience.

***

Adaptation is the glory of progress: to make it simpler, to make it quicker, to make it more efficient, to make it better.

But do we always make it better?

Or do we create an intricate system of cogs and wheels and chemicals that do the same job as the divinely conceived original?

Are we spinning our wheels to reinvent the wheel?

In the Robinson family tree house, they have bamboo-plumbed running water right next to a running river. In my house I have a dryer, surrounded by length of stair rails and arid heat, and frequently choose the packaged over the fresh. We drive when we could walk, and buy when we could grow, and {{{hug}}} when we should really seek a friend out… and hug.

And amidst all of this we tend to bemoan our anxiety and pine for simplicity. We want to reconnect with nature at the same moment we build up a wall (so we carve a window). Something in us seeks the unsullied natural experience while we GPS our way into outdoorsy adventure. I’m not saying this is wrong—I am certain Heavenly Father inspires the capable to create, cure and invent, and I love convenience and frivolity probably more than you and still marvel at the memory of not knowing (at six years old) that I couldn’t see and getting glasses and suddenly, the trees each had feather leaf! The foothills outside my backyard were covered in long grass! The world was solved and curved pieces of glass across my nose were a gift from God.

Indeed progress and invention are good.

But when simplicity is harder to come by, and we must seek it out and create it because of the convenient society we live in, does some of this betterment become a moral question?

Is it okay to do something just because you can? Should we invent something because we can? Should we buy it because we can? Is convenience too convenient?

What has been your experience with going back to basics?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

26 thoughts on “Reinventing The Wheel”

  1. My going back to nature comes from several roads right now. I have always wanted to be the Little House on the Prairie/Walton type. Not much satisfaction in a lot of that if you live alone. So I taught music so people could entertain themselves, needlecraft for inexpensive hobbies and small income families, how to make paints from fruits and veggies, etc, etc etc.

    Then I got married and we have 2 dogs and 8 cats and 6 fish. One dog is being trained to be my assist dog (spinal bifida) and has a tender tummy (IBS) to put it mildly. This is expensive, all of it. But it is the lifestyle we have chosen for now.

    So….. I make all the dog food and some of the cat food. I am working on making all our yogurt and am now reading the Animal Vegetable Miracle book that was suggested in an earlier post. I only use the car for errands and by the end of the year will have given up all outside activities that do not include my husband – so we use one car.

    I am gardening, and trying to learn how to put everything up for storage. Anything that we eat alot I try to figure out how to make (english muffins, crackers etc.) Spending 8 – 9 hours in the kitchen is no longer unusual.

    I find the making for my family very fulfilling. We gave up tv 3 years ago, so we could read and do things together and because it took too much time. Our computer is in a common room so we do not separate ourselves when we are home together.

    I love the Mother Earth Life Style and know that I have so much to learn. But I also am painfully aware that sometimes, at least initially it can be more expensive, and I would not be able to do it if I worked outside the home.

    The thing that most pleases me tho, is that when something breaks in the house I am pretty good about finding an alternate action, so my husband does not have the pressure that something needs fixed now and having no hysterical calls.

    I learned last year when the electric went out for 5 days and i was doing everything without convenience: I thot my husband was sooooo brave he went to work early in the morning and came home later at night. Then it dawned on me at work he had – lights, radio, computer, people to talk to, restaurants to eat at, coffee – if there is going to be living simpler for any reason – IT IS GOING TO BE US LADIES!

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  2. I think we humans are incredibly adaptable, and that, like with your glasses, we don't feel the lack of technology until it's given to us. Then we wonder how we ever lived without it. I've lived without a dishwasher for 12 years. I should be used to it, but since I know dishwashers exist, the fact that I would like one usually enters my mind at least once while I'm washing dishes. My guess is you'll want your dryer back within less than a week.

    I can only speak for myself, but what does me the most good is to have some regular contact with the outdoors, not necessarily to get away from technology. I love walking along the beach, but I also want my cell phone with me at all times!

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  3. That reminded me of an object lesson:
    Take a beautiful green apple — bite into its juiciness. There is nothing like it! Follow it up with a handful of Apple Jack cereal, and the cereal has nothing to compare with the apple — more like sawdust!

    But, take a handful of Apple Jack cereal first, with its cinnamon and sugar — mmmm. Then bite into the apple — the real thing — and you'll think the apple is tasteless and boring. Seriously!

    I think the Gospel is much the same way — when we partake of it first and from its source (the scriptures, etc.) it is delicious and we eat eagerly (see 1 Nephi 8). We are also better able to recognize Satan's cheap imitations.

    But if we allow ourselves to get involved in teachings far removed from the source, or even from a different source, the "real thing" is less satisfying –reading a titillating novel, done first, can become far more captivating than reading the scriptures.

    No disrespect to Apple Jacks :-). They're what brought the object lesson to mind in the first place!

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  4. Janet – we definately have the same philosophy on that one! and if you leave them in the drainer they are soooo much easier to put on the table the next meal. heheheheheehe YES!

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  5. I hear what you're saying about the simple.
    Every once in a while, we need to take a step back; re-evaluate, re-organize, and yes, yes, yes– simplify. There will be periods of time where I.just.crave.it.
    I like your banana theory, so true. And yes, sometimes it is "just because we can." But here's a quote I love that explains why we can't help ourselves from "messing" with things:

    "There would be no art, and there would be no science, if human beings had no desire to create. And if we had everything we ever needed or wanted, we would have no reason for creating anything. So, at the root of all art and all science there exists a gap–a gap between what the world is like and what we wish and hope for it to be like. Our unique way of bridging that gap in each of our lives seems to me to be the essence of the reason for human creativity."
    –Fred Rogers
    (yes, that Fred Rogers)

    We all do this to some extent; create our own unique spaces, refine our individual identities, bridge those gaps. Sometimes these things yield masterpiece and sometimes chemically altered banana treats.

    The great part is that choice remains a beautiful thing, and we can all make little choices every day whether we will choose to endorse the masterpiece or the banana bar.
    And I think, for me, the even better part is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I can mix and match and still feel great about it.

    (Because, sometimes I really, really, really *heart* my modern conveniences…) 🙂

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  6. This may not be the idea of self-sufficiency that you're looking for, but you can get service manuals for most appliances in a pdf online. That's how I self-diagnosed our dryer when it quit working. It may just have blown a fuse (not in your house, but in itself). It could be a very simple and cheap fix (or maybe not). Those manuals tell you what to do to diagnose the problem. It's not usually some secret code taught only to repairmen, but then again, I have a newer dryer–it may not be so easy if it's older, I dunno. Good luck!

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  7. I have a love/hate relationship with modern conveniences. Love the fridge. Hate the technology that is so addicting to my husband. Nothing drives me more batty than seeing him sitting on the couch with the laptop or his blackberry when he's been on those things ALL DAY. I just want to talk to him after only having a baby to talk to all day. But that's another rant for another day..

    Sometimes I look at all the stuff I have. I really only need one plate per person per day. Same with cups. And utensils. My grandparents lived off of basic foods – bread, cheese, milk, fruit, vegetables, meat. But somehow I need cereal or prepackaged mayonnaise and only my favorite cuts of meat. What? My husbands grandpa never ate red meat, ate chicken sparingly, ate more whole grains and vegetables every day than I remember to, like, ever. And guess what – he played tennis and had good health until he was 100 years old. At 100, he was one of the healthiest people I knew.

    Sorry to ramble. This is just a topic that always comes back to me. i do love my washing machine and the ability I have to cater to my whims as far as food goes, I just hate that modern convenience seems only to add more clutter and confusion. All of these things we "need," all the options of the same gadget… There's got to be a point where our brains just say "Enough with this! I'm moving to the caves in the mountains!" 🙂

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  8. After living for a year in a country where no one had a dryer, I decided we don't need a dryer. We've been happy without one for years now. Most people in that country didn't have a washing machine though, and I wouldn't be at all interested in going without one.

    What I really love about living now, instead of back "then," is that I can pick and choose what conveniences I want to use. I can make a quilt if I want, but if we need a blanket, I can buy an inexpensive one at a thrift store. I can use a decent washing machine and hang the clothes to dry. I can turn on the air conditioner (when we have one) and the heat and choose about so many other things. I have so many options and I love that.

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  9. My kids love Swiss Family Robinson! Their favorite invention? The homemade coconut bombs. lol. Oh well.

    I definitely think we have gone too far with convenience in the food department. Do we really need someone else to cut up our apples for us? Do we really need to pay someone else to divvy up our yogurt and applesauce and chips into little cups and bags because we can't be bothered to do it ourselves? Our grandparents would be horrified at the conveniences we gladly pay for.

    I had a funny moment yesterday when I babysat a friend's toddler in diapers. My friend had forgotten to pack any diaper wipes and the kid had a stinky one. I nearly panicked. Memories of my mom, bending over a half-nekkid baby, calling to me to go get her a wet washcloth came flooding back to me. Thankfully, I rememberd I had some flushable wipes in the second bathroom. 😛

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  10. We chose our last house because it was in a gorgeous, slightly remote, natural location. We knew it would be less convenient and we'd hoped that would lead to (and enforce to some degree) a calmer, saner lifestyle. Surrounded by nature, with a well, no A/C and little stream gurgling nearby. We often saw wild animals and bird watching was a treat. We had some neighbors, but there was a lot of space between us and a lot of privacy. I am sure it was the most beautiful place we'll ever live.

    But there was definitely a price to pay. Being farther away from school and stores meant careful planning and going without. The money I spent on gas for my car was astronomical. Well water requires maintenance, and the city isn't paying. Every plumber or electrician who came to our house needed special directions and a big tip. The electricity was more vulnerable. High speed internet arrived late. Cell phones didn't always work. Snow removal was a real chore. There were fewer children and they lived farther away, so making friends was much more dependent on me and my inclination to drive the kids around. In short, the simpler life was a huge time and money suck.

    When we decided to move, part of the decision was that we were tired of our home DEFINING us. Our time and money were organized according the the house and the location. At the end of the day, we felt we were servants to our house, rather than the house serving us. I think that realization applies well to this whole conversation: does living the simple life define you in a limiting way? Or is it serving you and your family in a fulfilling way?

    The truth is that simplicity in our day and age is different than it was in the past. Living in the suburbs is truly convenient and probably more simple. Growing your own food is almost always more expensive than buying organic at Whole Foods (putting in a successful garden is not cheap!). Sewing your own clothing is not usually a money-saving task: it's a luxury for people who can afford the fabric and the sewing machine. Shopping at WalMart is the most convenient, simple, and cheap option for most families.

    I get the sense that there is some serious snob appeal in applying the "simple" approach. That simple approach (only wood toys! only organic food and free range eggs! only buy local!) costs more money and is a luxury most families don't have the money or time to consider. I think it's really important to balance the hard realities of the simple life with the attractive and somewhat trendy appeal.

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  11. Yep, I've thought about this too. Good post.

    Jenny, your comments were great.

    As I've thought about this today, my thoughts also turned to choice. We know as mormon women that choice is a blessing from our Heavenly Father. We also know that with every blessing and gift comes a responsibility. Just because we are given the ability to choose doesn't mean that there are no consequences. As sad as it may be, what we choose to do even in little things like eating out for dinner, instead of making it from scratch, comes with consequences. When we make these seemingly simple choices with no forethought we are giving away our agency. The consequences of those little choices do come, but often we are baffled at the reason. Some of those consequences can be: a lack of work ethic, illness, weight gain, general feelings of unease, debt, etc.; which, when combined with the choices of millions of others like us, can effect our world-wide community.

    Often when I'm enjoying my modern conviences I wonder what my ancestors would say about my life. I have come to the conclusion that they would envy the bounty and ease but be overwhelmed by the choices that confront me daily. I have to make a conscious choice to eat healthy, it isn't forced upon me by circumstances. I have to make a conscious choice to live within my means because credit is too easy to get (or used to be). I have to make conscious choices to be moral because immorality is no longer shunned by the world.

    Live dilberately! Don't just eat at the Burger King because it is closest to your house. Don't stay in the confines of your house just because your furnace and air conditioning make you uncomfortable in anything but a perfectly controlled 72 degrees. Don't stay socially comfortable, surrounded by your usual friends because it is easier than reaching out to someone new. Things like a broken dryer are opportunities to see our life in a different way.

    Maybe that's why I still haven't fixed the broken garage door opener and have been strangely at ease since my cell phone died.

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  12. Traci–there's a cookbook you might be interested in called "Better Than Store-Bought." I think it's out of print now, but my husband found a copy on eBay or Amazon or something. It's got tons of great recipes for anything you would normally buy in the store–yogurt, english muffins, crackers, cheeses, whatever. If it's something that doesn't come raw and you can't get out of your garden, but you thought of as more of an ingredient than a meal itself, it's probably in there.

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  13. I see your point. I do. And it's an excellent and defensible point. But, I am not a card-carrying member of the good old days club. I love progress and knowledge. Indeed, the glory of God is intelligence. I think it is how we use and apply our ever increasing knowledge that defines who we are.

    I have never minded technology. I truly believe a lot of our progress that has been made with advances in technology is necessary for the growth of the church and, ultimately, salvation. The renaissance was brought about by the invention of the printing press. The entire restoration depended on the ability to print and share the words of the Book of Mormon and have people read it,firsthand, so that the Spirit could bear witness of its truth. Fast forward to the other night, almost 200 years later, I was getting acquainted with the new family search.org and was amazed at the…mess. Following my ancestral line, I saw mistakes in the temple work done for my mother's siblings who died as infants. I think the church changing to this new software will improve our records as well as creating a catalyst for faster temple work.

    Likewise, I love love love lds.org. Every time I have a lesson or talk, I smile at how easily I am able to garner information. Sometimes, I think about how different college would be now, writing papers, without spending hours in the HBLL at BYU, making copies of magazine articles and finding old references using a card catalog. Go progress!

    I love my cell phone, which averted a crisis the other day when I lost my children. I love cable and my DVR, which not only allows me to watch So You Think You Can Dance, but watch conference and music and the spoken word. I love my computer, which allows me to blog – an outlet that has given me the means and format to create and express myself in a way I didn't do before.

    I admire the idea of a simple life, and agree that there are very few actual necessities in life, a truth easy enough to witness whenever I travel as so many people on the earth in less-developed countries happily live the simple life). But, I love my clothes dryer and will use it until Al Gore finds a way to ban them.

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  14. Really, I've got to add that I'm with Red on this one. While the desire to escape to nature occasionally overcomes me (and results in multi-hour road trips–it's a good thing I love driving), both my husband and I work full-time, and frequently only have 2–3 hours a day where we are home that we're not sleeping. The microwave is my friend! I need my washers and dryer! It takes my hair days to finish if I leave it to dry on its own! I don't think quality of life is lost by our modern conveniences, I think they give us the opportunity for greater quality of life.

    As a side note for jendoop: I don't necessarily think that our work ethic has failed us, I think it's been focused in another direction. I think (personally) that a big part of the reason that obesity is on the rise is that we (specifically Americans, but others as well) work too much. Yeah, our companies offer discounted gym memberships, but who really has time to go to them when you've got a 10-hour workday, an hour commute each way, and a family at home to take care of. I was much more likely to exercise when I was unemployed, since it gave me something to do with my day, and I had plenty of time to get everything else done in addition. But that's probably a post for my own blog.

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  15. I do not think the simple approach is snobbish and only for the rich. It is a lifestyle with a conscience and future focus. As a part of our view of eternity we should include the near future and how our current actions and purchases shape that future. Gardening is something that requires an upfront investment but in the end reaps greater bounty. It ecapsulates the law of the harvest that we are increasingly disconnected from.

    The modern conviences bring with them free time, what do we do with that time? Work more to earn more to buy more. Is that really what will give us quality of life? Our expected standard of living has risen to a level that is out of reach for most Americans without going into debt, thus the debt crisis our country is in. We need to learn to live with less, so we can have more quality to our lives.

    IMHO the original post is not condemning all modern advances, but is asking us to slow down and consider our opportunities and choices, not just follow the thundering herds to buy a banana-flavored energy bar.

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  16. Brooke, I love what you wrote. I don't have the brain cells to wax philosophical today, but I have thought of what you have said many times before.

    When we first moved to our new home, we didn't have a drier. Dh strung a line in our backyard, I bought clothes pins, and we did it my grandmother's way. I loved it. Until November. Then I was very grateful to get a drier. I haven't considered drying outside in the warmer weather since we then. It's not a bad idea.

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  17. Great post! I'm reading a thought provoking book right now that ties in with this so well: Mary Ellen Edmunds' "You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don't Need – The Quest for Contentment".

    Living simply helps me to feel content, but my simple and your simple are probably not the same things. The things I choose to help keep my life simple – no cell phone because I like being unavailable, not signing my kids up for many classes/teams, baking my own bread, growing a garden etc. – are the exact opposite of the things that many women I know choose to keep their lives more simple for them!

    I think that simplicity really boils down to realizing when enough is enough. That threshold is different for all of us, but once you cross it, chaos and stress always seem to be waiting on the other side.

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  18. Hmmm.
    If our conveniences give us more time, maybe what we'll be accountable is how we use that time, not whether or not we use the convenience.
    Thanks for making me re-evaluate my time use — again :-)!

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  19. Very thought-provoking. I definitely think the answer will be different for everyone. I do think that we have been recently invited many times to take a good, hard look at our lives, and make sure we are doing what is best, what has eternal benefits. And didn't Elder Hales talk about simplifying? What that really means? Still working on that. I don't believe it always means removing ourselves from the benefits of progress. But I liked this:

    "If our conveniences give us more time, maybe what we’ll be accountable is how we use that time, not whether or not we use the convenience."

    I also think that it can depend on how we use the conveniences, too. For example, see how the church uses the internet for good (indexing, missionary work). We can do the same. Or we can waste time, or worse, engage in blatant, sinful behavior.

    Lots to think about.

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  20. Ha! I just wrote on my blog yesterday about how I haven't used a drier in over 15 years! I love hanging my clothes to dry. It saves me money on the drier and buying new clothes more often because they don't wear out as fast if you don't put them in a drier. Plus I can use the spot for a drier in a laundry room as storage instead. I love the feel and smell of line dried clothing.

    It often seems like if there is a hard way to do something, we try and find that hard way. I haven't figured out why we do that to ourselves yet, but I've been enjoying trying to find the easy way for a lot more things lately.

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  21. I love my dryer but last year when my old one, bought used a few years earlier was dying, I hung my clothes to dry. I had done it several summers previous because I liked to. Then at that point it was a necessity. I do like line dried clothing. It is wonderful in the summer but in the spring, winter and fall it does not do the trick. Especially for towels and denim. They end up getting all musty because they don't dry sufficiently to kill the bit of mold and mildew that you can't see but can smell. I've tried everthing to counter this bleach, borax, OxyClean, extra detergent, extra washes, everything in hot… they all help but nothing beats dryer heat in the winter and the heat and the sunshine in the summer.

    My husband can fix anything and does. This is mostly a blessing but sometimes I get into a place where I start wishing for unrepairable breakdowns. Sledgehammer style, just kidding about that, almost. For my last birthday, actually in the days preceding it, in the dark dreary waste after Christmas but before spring, I thought I might nearly die of laundry. So In January 30 (our anniversary) I told him of my woes. Told him that for my birthday on February 2 (three days later), I wanted a new washer and dryer. So he stayed home from work that Monday and made it happen. By evening they were whirring away in my laundry room. True love…him for me, between the two of us, but most of all that day by me for the washer and dryer.

    I think that advances are blessings. My Grandma who studied Chemistry when no other girl she knew went to college let alone studied the sciences said that we have no idea how much Chemistry has blessed and improved our lives. One tiny for instance life with out modern surfactants and detergents is something that we as women would never like to experience. There is plenty "modern excess" out of sheer annoyance that I would happily do without, but the ones I love, I can't imagine going without them.

    One thing that necessitates washers and dryers is the abundance of clothing. She said she had three dresses. Two for school one for church. She one to wear one to wash one to wear one to wash… and on and on it goes. I think if we practiced that we might have less need for fancy washers and dryers. My Grandma loves beautiful things and certainly has more than two everyday dresses now.

    This longing and appreciation for something lost in our modern world is not new. One more Grandma story. When she went away to college to the big city she brought a homemade sweater, the only one she owned. The girls just raved and raved about it. They voted it the best sweater (who knew they had sweater contests?), it was a nice sweater for sure but she just though to herself, "this old homespun thing."

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  22. I own a college counseling business, and this post reminds me of a recent SAT essay question: "do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily male them better?"

    My parents raised us kids in rural Arizona with the Mother Earth lifestyle. I loved it, and now I'm trying to incorporate as much of that as I can into our family. It's a challenge, since we love in the city!

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  23. I took a class at BYU called "Work and Relationships in the Home." I know. Only at BYU. A class on housework. But it had its interesting moments. One such moment was the results of a study of 'modern convienences' like dishwashers, vacuums, washers, dryers, etc. They found that these devices and others like it only saved housewives about 2 hours of work a week…

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