On the coffee table…

It is officially warm sock weather around here:

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The leaves are turning, the temperatures are dropping, and my beloved rain has finally returned.

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All of which means that it’s the perfect time to curl up with a good book.

I’ve got a decent stack of current reads, and sharing them with you is as good a way as any to share what’s been going on around here lately. At least, what’s been going on in my head–which, to be honest, is where most of the action has been the past few weeks.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

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“Our culture is not unacquainted with the idea of food as spiritually loaded commodity. We’re just particular about which spiritual arguments we’ll accept as valid for declining certain foods. Generally unacceptable reasons:  environmental destruction, energy waste, the poisoning of workers. Acceptable:  it’s prohibited by a holy text. Set down a platter of country ham in front of a rabbi, an imam, and a Buddhist monk, and you may have conjured three different versions of damnation….Is it such a stretch, then, to make  moral choices about food based on the global consequences of its production and transport? In a country where 5 percent of the world’s population glugs down a quarter of all the fuel, also belching out that much of the world’s waste and pollution, we’ve apparently made big choices about consumption. They could be up for review.”
(page 67-68, HarperPerennial paperback edition)

There’s such a post I want to write about food, but it’s still all a jumble I can’t sort out coherently yet. I know this book is old news now, but it’s a new read for me. And it is blowing my mind just a little. Not to mention my food-buying habits.

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Yes, Barbara Kingsolver is directly responsible for this purchase. Just for the record, all eggs must be free of growth hormones and I think “organic” has become just another marketing tool, so it’s not about those things. It’s the humane, cage-free environment that got me to shell out extra money for these.

We have dabbled just enough with food production to know how hard and difficult it would be to be self-sufficient with respect to food–even if we knew what we were doing, which we so do not.

Lettuce

We did grow some gorgeous late lettuce this year, which taught us mostly how much we don’t know. But hey, at least we have some idea now of what the questions are!

Kingsolver chronicles the story of her family’s year-long experiment to eat only locally-sourced or self-produced food, which is helping me see just how challenging it would be to do so. I don’t think the intention of the book, though, is to get all of us to consume only locally-produced and self-made food. It’s to get us to see and understand what the choices we make around food cost all of us.

As with the issues raised by my air-conditioning dilemma this summer, it can be tempting to give in to my overwhelm, throw up my hands, and stick my head back in the sand because it all feels too hard. Instead, I’m making small shifts where I can, because honestly? That’s all I can do.

Last weekend I made pot roast using (mostly) this recipe, and I filled it with herbs from our garden and good vegetables from a local family-owned farm.

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Rosemary and lemon thyme from our garden.

It was amazing. I’ve been getting as much of our produce as I can at this farm since early September, and I’ve come to know (a little bit) the woman who works in there Monday mornings. I see pictures of her family on the wall behind the counter. We’ve talked about raising teenagers and she suggested a way for me to cook some of the apples I recently purchased. It takes more time to drive out to the farm after going to the grocery store, but it’s only 7 minutes from my house and it’s at the top of some beautiful rolling hills. The prices are competitive with the much lesser-quality goods I’ve purchased at our discount grocer.

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I want more of this in our life. I will miss this kind of bounty when they close down for the winter.

The Big Tiny by Dee Williams

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“Now, more often than not, instead of feeling pissed at the rain for turning my bones into soggy oatmeal, I’ll walk over to my friends’ house and they’ll make me laugh and feed me warm soup; or, in the case of a particularly hateful moment with my composting toilet, I’ll remember watching little kids in Guatemala roll up their pants cuffs and walk across the muddy mess that was overflowing from the school’s bathroom, and I’ll realize I have nothing to complain about. I’ll remember like an apple to the head that I’m lucky to have what I have and that I’m not entitled to any more than those kids, or their fathers, whom we’d see walking along the roads at dawn, carrying their machetes out into the fields for a day.” (page 17)

We have no plans to build and/or live in a tiny house. While I’ve been interested in minimalism ever since participating in Project 333 a few years ago, I doubt I’ll ever be that minimal.

What’s hooked me into this book is not the how-to for building a tiny house or details about the structure’s design. It’s the story of Dee Williams’s journey from a fixer-upper bungalow in Portland (fun to read and recognize the neighborhood) to her self-built tiny house on wheels.

I can relate to so much, from having no idea what she was getting into when she bought her first home–

“No one had explained the challenges of home ownership when I went to the bank for a home loan. I was thirty-four, and perhaps the unspoken assumption was that I was old enough to understand that this was a complicated investment.”

–to realizing that a home can feel as much like a shackle as a haven:

“I loved my house, but when I look back on it realistically, I was able to enjoy it only a small part of the time. Most of my time at home was focused on mowing the grass, repairing the hot water heater, cleaning the gutters, and trying to keep the garage from listing farther into the neighbor’s yard….”

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We created this lovely little sitting spot last summer, but we spent more time in the yard mowing the lawn and watering the plants than we did lounging in that chair.

If you want to do some thinking, in the context of a humble, humorous, and serious-without-being-too-serious book, about what you need in a home and what your home costs you (and others), I recommend this read. It’s one of our fundamental contentions that how we do home is how we do life (whether consciously or not), and this book provides plenty of evidence to prove it.

Dreaming Small by Douglas Woods

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“After the Great War, thousands of small houses sprung up across the Southland to accommodate the large migration of job seekers hoping for a slice of the West’s booming prosperity. Many were designed for these new workers, but they hardly evoke “worker housing.” Rather, they were often thoughtfully designed, scaled-down cousins of the grand revival-style houses being built in the foothills for the city’s elite… . A new generation has discovered these houses and is living in them better than ever.” (page 9)

This book is full of what some might call eye candy, but it’s providing a healthier kind of sustenance for me. I was drawn first to the title (because that’s all that showed on the spine), but it was the colorful, warm room on the cover that got me to open it. When I began reading and realized the focus was on preserving, revitalizing, and appreciating homes with humble roots, this one came home from the library with me.

Not all of the homes pictured have me at hello, but some do:

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Warm wood, green plants, folksy art, a rocker. I could sit here for a long time.

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A simple bedroom with clean surfaces. My kind of restful.

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This is not the kind of room I would know how to create–and I might get tired of all that color–but I love its fun energy and lack of pretension.

This book is the first one in a long time about home interiors that I’ve been interested in. While there’s definitely some designery hoo-ha in some of the homes that puts me off, many of them seem like places I could actually live.

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This book reminds me that books like this can ground us when we’re feeling meh or kind of unsure about our own homes. Looking at these images helps me know (as I pay attention to what I respond to and what I don’t), what matters to me in a home. It helps me see what I like (as opposed to what’s trendy).

And it has me, for the first time in a long time, feeling interested in doing some projects on this house.

Sew Liberated by Meg McElwee
Simply Sublime Gifts by Jodi Kahn

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“The best presents I’ve ever received (or given!) have been handmade….I think the notion that someone would take the time to make a gift by hand, and then be willing to give it away, is part of the reason (handmade presents mean so much). When someone makes something especially for you, it feels like you’re getting a little piece of that person along with the gift.” (Jodi Khan)

I have, in years past, stridently declared that there would be no Christmas in this house before Thanksgiving. It has occurred to me recently that such a stance might be stupid and contribute to much that I dislike about the holidays.

I’m interested in making gifts this year, and it takes time to make gifts. If I wait until December to think about or do anything with Christmas (or solstice, my new December holiday of choice), I’m consigning myself to shopping with the hordes and/or stressing myself out because there’s not enough time to do something more meaningful.

And, I’ve kind of fallen in love with sewing, and patterns, and small projects that don’t involve a ton of hard, physical labor. (More on this in another post.)

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Hence, the two sewing project books you see pictured above, which recently came home from the library with me. Neither of these books is amazingly awesome, but they are priming my creative pump. Last weekend, I had fun at the fabric store:

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I’ll show you what I did with them soon.

Caminar by Skila Brown

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Even When

I stayed in my tree
even when

their machetes sliced
the edges of the jungle,
their voices pricked
the loud whir of Nothing
that roared in my ears.

I stayed in my tree
even when

the pops of their rifles,
laughter of the soldiers,
screams of my neighbors all
     died down.

I stayed in my tree
even when

my tree caught the whisper
blowing from tree to tree, a message
wave, turning leaves right side up
brighter green,
a message that said:
They’re gone.

(Page 50)

In my day job, I’m a school librarian. Since my job spans K-12, there’s no way I can read all the children’s and YA lit that I should to best serve all of our district’s libraries. But, I try to read some, and I’m so glad I made time for Caminar, a brutiful book for a reader of any age.

This novel-in-verse tells the story of Carlos, a boy-becoming-a-man, and his village, both caught in the crossfire between the army and the guerillas in early 1980’s Guatemala. It’s the kind of book that makes me simultaneously envious and profoundly grateful.

As Carlos shares stories about his village and the people in it, I find myself longing for his kind of community and connection. When the army slaughters everyone he knows, I realize how privileged I have been. I cannot fathom what it would mean to lose everyone and everything I have, to run into the woods and survive in the shelter of a tree, to be unsure of who my enemies even are.

But there are people who have lived this, people who are still living such lives, and I love this book for reminding me how much we need fiction to help us feel all that we cannot feel from our own experience, so that we can know the things we need to know.

I love, too, the ways in which any single book is like a thread, and when you start bringing them together you can build a rich, stunning, complex web of meaning. As my part of the world turns toward the interior season of dormancy, this collection of books is challenging me to think in new ways about where and how we are living.

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It feels so good to pull out sweaters and warm socks, wake to the sound of  rain falling through the gutters, sift through recipes for soup, and think about all the ways in which we find and create home.

I’d love to know what you’re reading these days, or what the changing season is meaning for you. Hope you’ll chat with me in the comments.

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The badminton net came down this weekend…