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Archive for September, 2009

Living History

I currently live just outside of the city, in a town that’s not quite a suburb but not quite urban either.  We still have public transit, and we have just enough space to eek out a couple of small gardens, but you can still see into the neighbor’s house through the window and there isn’t a whole lot of true peace and quiet to be had.  Some days I feel embraced by the city and enjoy the hustle and bustle.  I enjoy the convenience about not needing a car to go to the market, the drugstore or a few nice restaurants.  I love that a great number of our friends have moved within close proximity, so now I run into friends (and can visit them more easily) on a more regular basis.

But deep down, I miss having space of my own.  I miss nature being just out the back door, or in the driveway or eating every last beautiful flower out of the garden (okay, maybe just the novelty of seeing a deer eating the flowers is all I miss). I miss not being able to hear my neighbors conversations just because we both have our windows open.  Oh, the privacy!  One day, I have the pipe dream of moving to a grand old house in the country.  I suppose I’m just not a new construction kind of girl.  I want to feel the history seeping through every floorboard and finish.  To know as I make a pie crust by hand, I’m likely the tenth generation to do so under that roof.  To come home everyday to a house that was built by hand decades ago with all of the intricacy and detail that is completely absent from modern construction.

History is absolutely a tangible thing in a structure.  The old Victorian homes of New England creak and groan uniquely from one another, each telling the story of those who have inhabited them before; the polish on a wooden banister made by years of hands, or the divots in the center of stairs from years of footsteps. There is a kinship and warmth that comes from these houses, regardless if it has been passed down from generation to generation or bought and sold repeatedly.  There is a sense of peace as well – you are not the beginning nor the end, but instead a moment in time – which makes life seem that much more bearable and less stressful.  The machinations of a household repeating over and over, year after year bring a sense of stability that no economic bail-out or stock portfolio can do right now.

But what do people do to support themselves while living in a grand old home in the country?  I feel tied to the city because of our career choices, all the while wanting to escape it for something simpler; purer.  Do I drop everything I’ve learned in the city to do things more appropriate for the country?  Spin wool instead of picking textiles?  Thinking about these two vastly different lives accentuate in my mind the disparity in this country; the lack of understanding about how things are actually sourced, made and created.  The concept that even average people can and have made extraordinary things.  I already skirt the line of the bizarre for living so close to the city – I knit, sew, can, preserve and grow my own vegetables.  I love having people come to help me dig potatoes – the look of excitement is undeniable as they see the piles of tubers emerge from the mostly dead, yellowed plant above.  It’s a basic pleasure that so few get to actually experience, and I’m more than happy to share however I can.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get my grand old homestead, but I’ll do everything I can to cultivate those same joys in my home now and in the future.  Even in a modern kitchen, nothing beats the smell of soup cooking in the winter or pies in the oven over the holidays.  Life really is about the little things in the end, I think, even if it is often the big picture that takes our breath away… but in the meantime, I suppose it can’t hurt to dream.

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Cultural Collapse Disorder?

I’ve been going around looking at all different shapes and sizes of blogs that are doing things similar to what I want to do here, and with a very few exceptions the majority seem to be nothing more than product placement pages.  Now, I am all for promoting the small business owner, craftsman or artisan (as I hope to be one myself someday), but isn’t that saying something particularly telling about our lives and cultures today?  It leaves me with a funny taste in my mouth and the question of why must we buy things or think about buying things to feel validated?

I don’t want this blog to turn into product placement.  There are enough people out there who are apparently more than happy to do that.  I used to read Design*Sponge every day, and about a year or so ago I noticed that it was nothing more than a product list of upcoming (or already arrived) designers with the occasional content piece thrown in haphazardly.  I’ve hopped on over every now and again since then, and I’m hoping the infusion of new blood will help up the content again instead of just posting more things to want or buy.  Lord knows I know how hard it is to come up with content on a regular basis, which everyone can obviously tell from the sporadic posting here.  Still, which is better – quality or quantity?

I don’t have answers – I don’t even fully know the depth I want this blog to encompass yet – but I do know when I see something I don’t want.  There is a part of me that truly misses the days before the internet and widespread cell phones even though I fully embrace connectivity for the most part.  I miss having time to digest information before someone demands a response.  I miss people having time to fact-check what they say before broadcasting their opinions to the nation or entire world.  But on the other hand, I love the fact that I can much more easily find pockets of people who share common ideas and interests – I don’t miss the isolation and ostracism of my youth in the slightest.  I wonder now that we’re all inundated with information and stimuli that it isn’t all about finding balance… knowing when to shut off the cell phone or do something outside instead of sitting in front of the TV or video game console or computer.  By not being chained to a cubicle for nine hours a day, I find myself much more able to step away from the computer.  Much less needy for the constant information to keep my brain awake while doing repetitive, fairly mind-numbing tasks.  This doesn’t even encompass the fact that I lost ten pounds within six weeks of being free of the office and look healthier than I have in the last five years, or the increased mental stability and balance I’ve been able to cultivate.

The country is jumping on the organic bandwagon from beauty products to food; clothing to home products.  Why is it then that businesses are so adverse to an organic environment?  Why do we shy away from an organic lifestyle?  I’ve yet to work a job where I’m not left twiddling my thumbs on a regular basis because I work efficiently and businesses, by nature, are not.  Why not just pay someone to do their job, do it well, and however long it takes them is however long it takes them?  Why not pay for quality of work instead of quantity of time?  I don’t think I will ever understand why people are viewed as a commodity, as a resource which is uniform and equal when they are most definitely not.

It reminds me of a snippet from the book “Fruitless Fall” which is about the growing Colony Collapse Disorder epidemic of honey bees plaguing the United States.  The author talks about how when placed in a “natural” hive (one mimicking the shape of a hive in nature), the Italian honey bees relearned how to eject the varroa mites naturally, which has been a problem plaguing them for years in the Langstroth hives (the box-style, uniformly regimented artificial hives) where they just seemed to ignore the mites altogether and resulted in devastating the population in the infected hive.   Perhaps I’m making too loose of a connection or not taking into account enough variables, but what does this say about people who are forced into the regimented monotony of big business?  Those virtually living a cube farm for the majority of their waking hours?  That they just forget how to take care of themselves?  That they just trudge on, day in and day out without regard to the parasites that are eating away at them?  I can’t say I have the answers, but this most definitely struck a chord.

I’d much prefer to live an organic lifestyle.  To have time to be a person.  To have passions and goals that don’t revolve around the latest “it” gadget or “must have” product.  I am a consumer, yes.  I still love shopping.  But I’ve noticed in the last few years that instead of buying mostly products, I’ve shifted to buying materials, supplies, ingredients or components.  I want to be able to provide for myself, to understand the process to make what people want and need.  I can’t hope to learn everything in a single lifetime, but I sure as hell can try.  And from what I’ve experienced so far?  It’s far and away more satisfying in the long term for me than just going to the shop and throwing money at my wants and desires.  I am excited and infused with ideas and possibilities, looking forward to the adventures in life.  Isn’t that what living is all about anyway?

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Fall gives me very little time to myself, very little time to mull and ponder and very little time to do any sitting around.  Fortunately or unfortunately, fall has swept in a bit early this year or maybe it’s just the extra-lateness of Labor Day that’s throwing me off.  The temperatures plummeted as everything else exploded.  I got a bushel of absolutely gorgeous plum tomatoes for sauce making from Latham’s on Long Island, my freezer was bursting with gallons upon gallons of berries (it figures that the year which decimated my garden by the end of July was the one to have a bumper crop of berries) and gosh darn it, I picked up a new hobby which perfectly corresponded with the new chilly nights (how did I ever get along with only one scarf before?).

This means I have been up to my ears in domestic projects.  I successfully put up thirteen pints of tomato sauce, which caused far more duress this year than previously as apparently my vintage jars have decided to start exploding mid-water bath.  There is nothing that sounds more like nails on a chalkboard to me than the sound of a mason jar exploding in a vat of boiling water… but it’s even worse.  It’s the sound of hours of hard labor going completely down the tubes.  Needless to say, much colorful language ensued in spite of the fact that my visiting mom was actually in earshot.

After a nice long skulking tirade about the sauce fiasco, I decided I was tired of using an old carpet runner to keep my chest freezer shut (yes, it was that full) and put up about twenty jars of blackberry jam.  That was at least (mostly) stress free.  They even set up properly, which was a relief after the issues I had with my strawberry jam in June which had finally managed to set sometime this week.  Jams really shouldn’t take the better part of two months to set, but I’m glad these finally did.

I also had gotten a shipment of plants courtesy of Pat and Bill, so there was also an entire day out rearranging the front garden to fit in all of my new pretties while getting rid of some Home Depot sale table hostas the previous owners had practically covered our full sun front yard in.  I think I managed to put a crack in the hickory handle of my shovel attempting to get one out that was nearly three feet across.  Of course, I got distracted part way through when a detour to the back yard to plant some gorgeous perennial begonias happened and I ended up digging all of the potatoes out of the vegetable patch.  The yukon golds and red bliss’ must’ve caught the blight bad, as I think I only got about six or eight of them total, but the “mistake” la rattes, bless their little tater hearts, performed beautifully again.  The mistake was I never actually planted them.  I must’ve missed some seed potatoes when I dug them out last year, and they nestled their way into interesting patches of the garden which ended up in 10+ pounds of fingerlings for me.  With the late blight claiming half of my garden this year, I am not complaining in the slightest.  I have learned my lesson – always order seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange because their stock will kick the local garden center’s stock’s tuckas.

…and I haven’t even started to get into the fact that I finished my first scarf and am two feet into the second (and much more complicated) one.

So today I need to just sit back, breathe and remind myself that I am not an awful human being for not yet getting to the drapes that need to be hemmed for the bedroom, or that wrap skirt, or those eggplants in the fridge that I really just need to hold out for a couple more days so I can make a few trays of parm for freezing for easy winter meals.  It will be okay, life will go on and no one will hold it against me that I keep shoving a few projects back into the dark corners of my house and mind so I can attempt to barely manage to keep up with the bounty of the season.  Oh, and don’t forget making a trip out west to go to the yarn warehouse of course… all of that hard work definitely deserves some kind of reward!

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