On Friday, I dropped my son off at school. In the lobby some students were selling note cards. They were handmade, printed on an antique press in their classroom. The drawings were wonderful, each card a unique print in a different color. The funds would support the school. 25 cards for twenty dollars. Cash. Today only. Until the very limited supply ran out.
This is a situation in the past when I would have bought a set of cards without thinking. And in fact I totally forgot about my project and went right over to check out the cards and find out how much they were selling for. Then I thought for a bit. Did these cards count as something for me? Something for our household? Was supporting my son’s school allowed? Was this really supporting the school, or just buying something nice?
I realized I had no money. When we left, I knew it would be a quick dash, so I’d grabbed my keys and my cell phone. No wallet. No purse.
I walked out without any cards. I still have cards I purchased in the mid-nineties clogging my shelves. As nice as these were, I don’t need any more.
Yesterday I stopped and pulled my old copy of Woodswoman
from my bookshelf. Looking at it, I recalled years ago (1986?), driving back to all-girls’ camp in Vermont, after several nights hiking and camping in the White Mountains. In the van we were chatting away about the woods when I mentioned my interest in building a log cabin in Alaska and living in the wilderness. One of my counselors said, “You don’t have to move to Alaska, you can do it right in the Adirondacks!” and she suggested I read a book called “Woodswoman”, about a woman who had done just that.
After we arrived back at camp, unpacked gear and showered, I made my way to the mailboxes. There was a package slip in my tiny slot, and upon opening the envelope, I discovered a copy of “Woodswoman.” Coincidentally, my parents had been on a trip to the Adirondacks while I was off hiking, purchased an autographed copy of the book, and sent it to me. I devoured it, and read it again. I read her other books (again autographed copies, again purchased by my parents on return trips to the Adirondacks). I dreamed of my own woodswoman adventures.
Then a very long time passed and I forgot about being a woodswoman.
So yesterday I curled up in bed and began to read it again. About twenty pages in, I thought, “What’s Anne LaBastille up to now?” A quick search on my phone and I learned she died barely six months ago at the age of 75. I am still in shock, so sad, so surprised. How could I have missed hearing about this?
For silly and foolish reasons, I’m not in the woods skiing this weekend. My consolation, as January Manhattan drips in 59° drizzle, is to read “Woodswoman.” There is something magical about this book. It finds me when I need it most.
Damn these sewing bloggers are goooooood! For future inspiration and confidence-building: My Favorite Mod Dress aka The Branch Division Dress from Lavender over at the Sew Weekly. Seriously, how amazing is this?!
I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d use up my exotic grains in my FAQ. On Monday I cooked up a total awesome black barley risotto from Chef Josie Le Balch from Josie Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. I can’t seem to find the recipe again online (only the video, which isn’t very helpful) so I’ll post it here for you:
Black Barley Risotto
1 cup black barley 3 cups chicken stock or water 1 oz butter 1 T diced garlic 1 T diced shallot 2 oz brandy 4 oz cream 2 oz Quicke's traditional english farmhouse cheddar (another aged cheddar can be substituted)
Combine stock and barley. Simmer till barley turns tender (1 1/2 to 2 hours). More stock may need to be added so that it does not run dry. Strain barley and let cool. In a saute pan cook garlic and shallots in butter just till they start to become fragrant. Add brandy (may flame up) and cook until it is reduced by half. Add cream and heat until the cream boils. Add barley and cheese. Heat until the cheese melts then season with salt and pepper.
A couple notes: I didn’t cook the barley that long because my bag said to add it to boiling water and cook about 45 minutes. It was pretty chewy, and if I hadn’t been rushed I probably would have given it more time. Also I poured in 1 oz of sherry before I realized that sherry does not equal brandy and that I’d grabbed the wrong item! I didn’t taste the mistake, seemed really yummy to me and my kids gobbled it up. Also I think this would be a great way to do other grains, like farro, and brown rice. I plan on using this “risotto” technique again as I work my way through my pantry.
As I suspect, another exception had reared its ugly head. Gifts! We went to a birthday party over the weekend and I realized I wasn’t clear about gifts in my guidelines. Since I am a passionate gift maker, rather than buyer, I feel like I probably don’t have to declare this exception.
One gift I love to make when we attend birthday parties for classmates of my 4-year-old son is pine needle sachets (I use needles I save from our Christmas trees). Another are little bean bags made with scraps of fabric leftover from pants and shorts I’ve sewn for my kids. The checks above are from a skirt I made and the red stripes are shorts from Ollie.
So the exception will be: gifts must be hand-made, not bought, but supplies can be purchased if all other supplies are used up. Gah. This project is getting complicated!
On Saturday I looked at a really messy shelf of kids’ stuff and thought: “Hey, I should put all these supplies in a neat little basket.” Then: “I need to buy a basket.” Then a few minutes of pondering: “Does buying a basket for the house count as something for me? Or the kids? Or the family?” A few more minutes and I determined to weave a basket out of old newspapers. And voila! Of course it’s not sturdy enough to actually hold the bottles of tempera paint, and it was kind of a pain to make. Nonetheless, a basket! Powered Woven by my own sense of self-satisfaction!
In the fall of 2004 I traded my Tom Brady jersey for a Corey Dillon jersey. Dillon joined New England as a Patriots running back that fall and went on to rush 1,635 yards as the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
This fall I finally thought about replacing my jersey and spent some time thinking about who I’d replace it with. I decided on tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, but somehow I never ordered the shirt. And now here we are: AFC Championship game, and all I’ve got is my old (but very lucky!) Corey Dillon jersey. What to do? Make it do, of course. I’m actually pretty excited, both for the game, and my very special Gronk jersey. Go Pats!
I've been thinking about your project for days now, and about "experiences" versus "consumables," which is an interesting distinction, and also about self-care. Because I'm a privileged person, I buy decent food, when and where I want, and, similarly, I pay for experiences and self-care sometimes. (Massage, for instance, when I throw out my back.) And somewhere in the middle: MANI-PEDI. The thing is: yeah, I can cut my own nails, sure. But I can't do what they do. What's your verdict?
Hmmm…this is interesting because “consumables” sits between “experiences” and “material stuff” in my mind. Or does it? Maybe there is no distinction. A mani-pedi is a consumable, but it’s also an experience. Going out to dinner is a consumable, but also an experience. Now you’ve confused me, Choire!
Let’s make it clear: weekly indulgent grooming behaviors are definitely not permitted. (That’s easy for me to say because I don’t ever do that kind of thing.) My gut says once in a while, a mani-pedi is acceptable. And bimonthly waxing is absolutely OK. This is not the year of turning into a hairy cavewoman. Thanks for asking.
Upon hearing about this project, my friend @finn sent me a link to Bruce Sterling’s The Last Viridian Note. There’s a lot in there that resonates, especially his definition of sustainability: “So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time.” One thing I’ve found freeing already is how much extra time I seem to have because I’m not shopping, or needing to shop. Granted I also haven’t bought groceries in a month because my husband’s been doing that!
Since we moved into our current home nearly three years ago, I’ve been a fairly disciplined purger, going through our belongings and giving away what we no longer need or use. Sterling’s observation of stuff inspires me further:
[O]bjects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.
It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.
Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane…So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.
I’m sensing a process of curating my goods lies somewhere in this project. The challenge is keeping stuff I genuinely like and use while acknowledging the fear of needing something unbuyable in the future. How to balance a kind of “hoarding so I can make do” – I kept three sweaters I don’t wear, rather than donate, because I think I may patch/mend/craft with them – with the probable reality that I still have enough.
Part of this project involves removing temptations, or as I’m beginning to think of it, putting on the horse blinders. I stupidly walked through Anthropologie on my way to get some groceries (windy and it’s a shortcut habit…) this morning. So many cute shirts and dresses! Now resolved: No more walking through stores. Also I’m unsubscribing from emails that arrive with siren songs of beautiful art and products (sorry 20x200, Kaufmann Mercantile).
And a big one for me: I’m unsubscribing from Martha Stewart Living. I’ve subscribed since 1996 but over the years, the magazine has changed from lots of great craft and DIY ideas to “this is what you should buy,” with most recommended products coming from the Martha Stewart Collection.
January 2012 pushed me over the edge, with an article about Martha’s new homekeeping room that, “makes everyday tasks easier.” She has more packing materials than the Mailboxes Etc. around the corner from my house, and more cleaning supplies than most delis in my neighborhood. The constant celebration of excess by the magazine – must we all aspire to twelve kinds of twine? – is more than I can stand. Goodbye Martha. And goodbye to your collection of late-19th-century yellowware mixing bowls.
Hi and welcome, if you’re coming for the first time to find out what this crazy project is all about. Most of your questions can be answered by the information to your right. Read the few posts I’ve made. Poke around and see what’s behind this idea. Come back again and again and watch as I sew clothes from curtains and patch jeans and who knows what else throughout the year. Just please don’t tell me this is impossible. That’s not a word I like to hear.
Back in New York City, walking around, I’m more aware than ever of the amount of stuff in my face. Ads for handbags, for clothes, for lipsticks. Windows of stores filled with every kind of possible thing, every where I look. It’s easier to not want things when you’re not exposed to them daily, as I wasn’t in Vermont or Idaho. But I’m realizing this pernicious advertising that permeates my environment will make this project all the more challenging. That which I don’t buy makes me stronger, right?
As mentioned, I spent the last couple of weeks on the west slope of the Teton Range, backcountry skiing and camping. I had an amazing time but…it turns out that my theory of having everything I need, or being able to make do, doesn’t account for any future backcountry expeditions. I kind of hate to break my rules so soon into this project, but the fact is: I love being in the backcountry and I want to do everything in my power to get back out there, as soon as possible.
So I bought a few things already (that I’ve put on my spreadsheet that I created to track everything bought in 2012) to keep my backcountry dream alive. I didn’t buy a -30°F rated sleeping bag, or an avalanche probe or shovel or transceiver, or a stove (yet!) but if I get the chance to go back out into the woods for a few days, I’m reserving the right to buy some things to do so.
On one hand I’m kind of bummed I’ve “failed” already. On the other it’s hard to give up the ability to do something I love simply because I didn’t already own the stuff to do it. I consider this my “NOLS Backcountry Exception Rule”. I’m pretty sure I won’t have to come up with any more exceptions. I guess we’ll see.