Casting the Net

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We did have one lovely snow in February. Now the fruit buds are threatening to open, and we’re heading south to go camping. 

I’ve been thinking of late about the broken world, and what it means to repair it. Casting my net in search of the great solution. Is it in the world, or in the home? Is it my spirit that must be intact, or the entire web of life? Sometimes my focus drifts from one of these to the other, seeming to separate them, but when I am in my wholeness, they are all one.

I came across this wonderful interview with Larry Littlebird, an Indigenous storyteller whose people have seen climate change in this region a time or two before, on “The Benefits and Blessings of Climate Change.”

March Choyt: How can we find a new direction, or home?

Larry Littlebird: I believe that we are collectively attempting to rediscover this starting over place. One people’s starting over place is all too often very different from another people’s. Whatever you are caught in is greater than you are, but you are in it at the same time and part of it.

The starting-over-place, or what you call home, is discovered in the chaos, when everything is blown apart and you are grabbing at planks—and finally there is just a relinquishing. You let go. And that is where that first inkling of, “I have to do something” begins.

It is so simple! You are being tossed in this ocean and a wave flips you way up in the air for a moment and you see something in greater trouble than you. Something within you says,

“I have to do something.”

The chaos brings you in relationship to a place where all our needs are always met – a place between what has happened within and the contact with the need that will provide a starting over point.

Have you reached that point in your relationship with chaos? And what, then, is it that you do? What does your net bring up?

The Road to Homefire

“Knowledge is not obtained exclusively with our brains; it is gained through our hearts and by reconnecting to life, a source of wisdom. Makers of things are in a position to understand and change the world.” Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living

IMG_9550It’s been four years since I started this blog to document our journey of living with less waste, and more joy. What began with a four month plastic fast became an immersion in life-learning, skill growing, community building, culture reclaiming, and creative, imaginative living.

I like to think of those years as my PhD program in homemaking, which I define as the making of a life, a family, and a community in balance with its home-place. It has also been a nifty capitalism recovery program.

IMG_9671When I set out on this road, I had instincts and good intentions and not much of a clue. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to make wool long underwear for my kids without a pattern, or growing a garden all winter long, or for that matter going a few months without plastic. Truth is, I often struggled to place my personal revolution into a broader movement for change (but mostly because I over think everything).

Fortunately, I have not walked alone. There is the internet, of course, which has been the stand-in for a capable great grandmother and conscious collective. There is my husband, with his true-north moral compass. And there are my motherkin, the friends reclaiming skills and knowledge and connection in their own beautiful ways.

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Together, we have helped each other trust that the work we were doing in our homes would ripple out, would be a force of change in our community. And lately (by which I mean over the last two years), we’ve been looking up from our children and canning pots and gardens and jobs and around at each other and the world to see where we might direct our creativity and skills next.

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With a half-dozen children underfoot at “meetings,” over late night phone calls and many cups of tea, a handful of us began shifting our work of reclaiming skills and lifeways into that of rebuilding a community that reflects those values.  Just as cooking leads to gardening leads to preserving, manifesting change on a (teeny tiny bit) larger scale is the logical next step for us. We created the Santa Fe Harvest Swap, which just held its second glorious exchange. Incredibly, we have a website, and on November 10th we will host a whole new venture we are calling the “Homefire Retreat,” a day of workshops meant to inspire, empower, and connect us more deeply to ourselves, our community, and our commitment to the earth.

I hope you come to the retreat if you can, or start something like it in the place you call home. Something as simple as a few friends skill-sharing while the kids play, or as complex as a week-long regional gathering (I do like to dream).

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Let’s celebrate our individual journeys by stitching our work of reclaiming and rebuilding into a big crazy-quilt that encompasses our diverse lives. Let’s get together for a quilting bee, if you will, and put our bits together into something whole. And then call the beauty that comes of it our dissertations, our revolution, our world.

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PS, go ahead and read Shannon Hayes article on the three R’s of Radical Homemaking: Renouncing, Reclaiming, and Rebuilding. It has been a helpful guidepost to me along the way, and I gratefully acknowledge her language and ideas borrowed here.

Repairing a Broken World

The hebrew expresion “Tikkun Olam” literally means “to repair the world.” Ideologically it suggests a wholehearted acceptance of the world’s brokenness along with our ability to repair it, or at least our ability to try. It does not point to a particular time or transgression. It does not cast blame. It does not indulge the notion of absolute good or evil. It simply accepts that we live in a broken world and and can, or should (if and when we are ready), reach towards its repair. —Harriet Fasenfest, The Householders Guide to the Universe

I have learned a great deal of humility as I grow in my ability to join our collective repairing of this broken world.

I have at times found myself at a loss to define what “repairing” looks like to me. On the one hand I am impatient with small things like switching to cloth napkins (though please do it if you haven’t yet), and yet it can also take me a very long time to do something as basic as making my own household cleaning solutions. What’s more, as a high achiever, I’m drawn to the dramatic, all or none No Impact Man style changes. Eat only local food! Grow it all! No plastic! Don’t buy anything! No car! Repent!

Sigh.

When our family ended our plastic fast, I felt like a failure for returning to a relatively “normal” life. Still, I knew I had to go in search of balance, and so I surrendered my idea of what I should be doing. I focused my attention on nurturing my family and myself. I learned how to breathe through temper tantrums, to knit and sew, to discover how abundant life on a small single income can be. I carried on with my garden, with milking goats once a week, with hanging the laundry on the line, with building friendships and connection with my community.

I grew and grew and grew.

And the other day I looked around my kitchen and saw that yes, there are plenty of little bits of plastic packaging and such, but actually not very much. We have organically grown away from once ingrained patterns and habits of consumption. While the rules of our fast did foster amazing change and insight in a short period, over the last few years we’ve naturally come to embody that change more fully, more authentically.

For me, a big part of this repair work is an inner repair, one that moves beyond a Type-A Save the World mentality, and towards something infinitely more mysterious.

When we open our hearts to living in a way that strives towards repair, it is our own brokenness that is mended. That must be the first step, for it is our own healing that will guide us to heal the world we inhabit. We have a lot of learning and remembering to do. Just that is enough to fuel our spirits for the good work before us, as we discover the goodness of what it means to create things by hand, to grow things, to lift our voices in song, to really love and nurture, to be whole.

Sometimes it happens by accident. We begin with an action to heal the world, and find ourselves changed for the better. That’s good, too.

Here is something I never thought I’d say out loud: It doesn’t matter what you are doing. It doesn’t matter if you are doing big things or little things, nothing or everything. What matters is that we are all finding our way back to that wholeness. And changing the world from there.

Because I am at home, and it suits my nature, I do what I am doing. Mind the children. Search for beauty. Meet as many of our needs as I can by creating and repairing. Grow a few more vegetables every year, gather herbs from the mountains. Get a little more skilled at all this, a little less awkward. Not worry so much about what other people are or are not doing. Or if anyone is noticing what I’m doing.

So we raise our families and our gardens. We grow out of our radical youths. We may or may not get rid of the car, or have a solar panel array, or ever quite quit plastic. But we do get much better at many things, and also much humbler. Our work of repairing turns out to be about building a new way of life, rather than simply dismantling the old one.

And that will keep us busy for now.

Clean House 1-2-3!

Here is my revolutionary three-step plan to a mess-proof house:

Step 1: Pick up the Mess.

Step 2: Get rid of It.

Step 3: Repeat until the mess is composed entirely of things you can’t live without, or consists of things that are pleasingly wabi sabi in their strewn glory.

I first got hard core about decluttering when I was pregnant with #2. For my birthday that year I told my husband all I wanted was get rid of 1/3 of our possessions. That meant: one teapot, two dozen cloth napkins, forty books, a garbage bag of clothes, a sleeping bag, and on and on. And on.

That was almost two years ago, and I’m still peeling back layers of stuff and excess.

My children charmingly believe that play is basically imaginative emptying of every possible receptacle in the house: cupboards, drawers, toy chest, sewing box, yarn stash, garbage can. I don’t want to keep them from what is no doubt healthy development but nor do I want to have high blood pressure.

So, I’m just getting rid of it all.

Just curious–does this look like a lot of toys to you, or a little?

A friend of mine is an especially inspiring de-clutterer. She says that she has yet to reach the point where she feels like she’s done enough. I did once get rid of too many spoons, but perhaps it’s a sign that I should pare down on knives and forks.

I de-clutter because it makes my house more beautiful and because it makes my life simpler. The constant picking up and putting away of our detritus takes a tremendous amount of energy from me. Our belongings take mental, physical, and emotional energy to care for. As we get rid of stuff, we are freed in surprising ways.

Where toys go when mama gets tired of picking them up. Visitation is allowed. The bottom floor is kept clear as a hidey hole.

Currently in the Out Box: Anything that annoys me, including, but not limited to

  • Small toys formerly stored in cute baskets. Things that seem to exist for the sole purpose of dumping on the ground and scattering.
  • Play kitchen food and utensils. One or two pots seem sufficient. Food can be found in the real kitchen.
  • Clothing. Out of season clothing, wrong size clothing, excess right size clothing, kid clothing only one or another of the mother-daughter dyad likes, but not both of us. It’s all outta here.
  • Crafting supplies: fabric, yarn, thread, notions. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
  • Books. I have officially reached the point in my Letting Go of Stuff phase where I can part with books. Mostly on the outs are novels and anything I haven’t gotten around to reading despite years of having on the shelf. I’m trying to think of my bookshelves as a curated collection.
  • Children’s books.  We own only a very small collection of special books. The rest come from the library in batches of ten or so at a time. (most of them ones we cycle through repeatedly) ensures that they are all treasured, and enjoyed, not to mention actually read.
Amazing things happen with this bare-bones kitchen.
Wait, there’s more!
  • Animal magnets on the fridge. Under the stove is more like it.
  • Linens–we just don’t need two dozen washcloths, I’ve found. Two sets of flannel sheets per bed keep us cozy year round.
  • Winter clothes. Crafty mamas are in extreme danger of drowning their family in handknits, and we need to help each other be strong against the well meaning onslaught of booties and pilot hats. If you have less of this stuff, you are less likely to lose them in the mountain of gear inside the front closet. Be fearless. And only make it if you really need it.
  • Mama-made toys that don’t get played with. This would be the cardboard barn and hand-knitted menagerie of farm animals, the adorable wee felt folk, the felt balls, the stuffed bunnies, the amigarumi bird family. Perhaps someday when there’s nothing else left, they will be treasured. For now, they are just too hard to dust to keep on the toy shelf.
 I say all this to wish you courage in making your home a place that takes care of you as much as you take care of it. Many blessings on each batch of no longer needed things that moves on to grace another family’s life. Here’s a little chanty for while you work~
Free the heart, let it go.
What we reap is what we sow.
Ps–I noticed Simplemom is in the midst of another Project Simplify. Check it out.

The Journey Continues

So as most of you know, last year we did this thing where our family didn’t buy any plastic. For four months, really more like six, we acquired only the teensiest amounts of plastic–exact amounts can be found at my end of month reckonings–during what turned out to be a life changing experiment. The posts from those months are a celebration of my joyful discoveries of Life Without Plastic.

Since then, though, I’m not even sure I’ve mentioned plastic at all on this blog. I just didn’t know what to say. Recently inspired by a number of posts written by friends in blogland ranging in topic from money to miscarriage to compromise, I have been thinking about transparency and figure it’s long past time to give a full accounting of our lifestyle these days, to reflect on life after no-plastic. Post-post-plastic, if you will.

So I have to just say it out loud: the fast that was so celebrated in this space ended in May. Since then, we’ve been buying plastic. Sometimes a lot, like when my in-laws came to town and I just went to Trader Joe’s and didn’t bat an eye at the cart filled with packaging (though I felt sick when I saw it filling our trash can, later). Generally it is a lot less than when the trips to TJs were a weekly extravaganza (that’s right, I was a pretty careless, if all-organic shopper before we started the fast), but certainly it’s more these days than when it was almost nothing.

There are various reasons for all this. Economy is one of them. I have been working hard to get our budget tightened up. I want to keep staying home with my kids, and that means really learning to live on just one income. Could I really keep spending over $10 for a gallon of organic milk just because it was in a glass jar (that doesn’t include the deposit). Did it make  sense to take a special trip across town to one of the big box health food stores for, I dunno, Braggs in bulk?

There was also my picky-picky little one, who essentially stopped growing once weaned. I needed to be able to buy her whatever I thought might help her eat more–whether it was a hot dog or frozen blueberries to top her (homemade) yogurt with. And then there was me, pregnant and needing to be able to walk into the kitchen and eat something right this second, which kind of interfered with my made from scratch ways. I started stocking the fridge with basics like tortillas.

Lastly, my attention was diverted from my extreme eco ways by the intensity of mothering a two year old. I devoted myself to finding my parenting legs (so different from the mothering legs we get when our little baby is in arms!) and this led me down a wholly new and unexpected road to a fabulous realm I call Steiner Land. Furthermore, I wanted to spend time learning to sew, making things, out in the garden, living. I didn’t yet know how to do all that and never buy a plastic bag.

I think I’m much closer now. I feel everything coalescing, all the skills I’ve spent the last year learning, the inner work I’ve done, the growth I’ve experienced as a mother, and the somewhat miraculous (and ongoing) organization and de-cluttering of our home. This has, happily, brought us full circle. I have the inner and outer resources–the drive and the skills–to go back to a life that is in line with my values. I have a sense of what is the right balance for us, the things we need, the things we don’t need.

I have to say that the most powerful thing about our plastic fast wasn’t that we didn’t acquire plastic during that time, but that we discovered out capacity for change. That we broke out of a system that we took so for granted we didn’t think there was any other way to live. Plastic isn’t the point (which I think I made clear even back in the day). The point is to live as carefully and consciously as we can. This means balancing many different parts of our lives, of making sure we are  joyful in our efforts rather than resentful. It means resting when we are weary, and taking up the staff to keep walking when we are ready to keep walking.

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ps–I just revisited the path we forged last year during our fast by meandering through the archives here at Old Recipe. Dang, did I really do all that? I’m so inspiring I just inspired myself. Cool.

The Return of Eco Shabbat

As the days get shorter, we find ourselves turning off the lights once again.

Spending one evening each week in the quiet candlelight–a way of reconnecting with each other in the midst of busy days, of taking a little rest from the noise that fills our lives, from the constant doing that prevails in our world.

A way to give thanks to the earth for supporting us, by taking a little less from her one night each week.

A moment given over to stillness, reflection, gratitude.

A long quiet in-breath that is by its very nature a meditation on where light really comes from, a lesson on how to tend the fires within.

We linger over our meals, for where else is there to be, or to do? Friends drop in to feast along with us, and our sense of community is strengthened little by little.

Sometimes we make music. Sometimes we tell stories, ones we’ve been saving and ones we never thought we knew.

Sometimes we just sit quietly in the darkness, and go to bed, already rested.

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Good night!

Lustful Knitting

Nobody warned me. When I sat down to learn to knit last winter, nobody said, Beware, this may be your undoing.

And I’m glad they didn’t, because I love to knit. I have about a hundred  projects I’d like to make this winter, and the only thing (!) stopping me is this: Gear. I have two different sizes of knitting needles, and am just realizing that of the many patterns I collect, almost none of them call for the same size needle. Um, what’s a girl supposed to do?

I’m really a pretty good non-consumer. I occasionally lose it at yard sales and thrift stores in big cities, but in general, I don’t buy anything but food and underwear and used  books. So it was strange, that rush of I Have to Buy Every Size Knitting Needle I Can Get–Right Now!

I almost bought a set of interchangeables. I almost bought one of the insanely cheap sets of like 15 needle sizes straight from China off that place where you bid on stuff. I almost went and just paid full price at the local yarn shop for a needle size that seemed useful, someday, but not quite yet.

And then I just stopped, and watched myself for a second. I went back to the two little projects underway on my two pairs of fine circular needles. I’m having fun with them. Besides, how much knitting can you do at once?

This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted something. Badly. Right now. But that breath, that pause, that little bit of room for the desire to exist without consuming me, or turning me into a consumer, I consider it a friend. Sometimes I realize I don’t need what I think I do. Or that I do. Or I can find it secondhand if I wait a little (or more likely, a long time).

I’ll figure it out, no doubt. But how do you handle that crafty person’s craving for…more? More fabric, yarn, books, supplies, projects. I kind of agree with this related post from Little Home Blessings. Sometimes it’s a fine line between inspiration and lust, between doing it yourself and consumerism, eh?