Old School

some things never go out of style

some things never go out of style

Are you back on the wagon, readers?  I’m curious about what you’ve committed to for these 30 beautiful, wintry days.  Fess up — I’m dying to know.

The commitment I made for January was to write 30 letters (in 30 days.)  Not 30 emails.  Not 30 Facebook updates.  Certainly not 30 Twits, or Tweets, or whatever you call those things.  30 bonified letters  — you know, those pieces of paper that can cost several dollars to buy and another 44 cents to mail, and that, once the recipient receives them, bear old news.  Yep, those.

my favorite cards

my favorite cards

I’ll be honest with you, it’s been quite a challenge.  I’m enjoying it.  I’m sensing some real appreciation from the fine folks I call friends and family.  I’ve even received two letters in return!  And, like many things in my world, the practice has brought up a host of metaphorically existential questions that have me considering the bigger picture of something as simple as scribbling off a small note to a loved one once a day.

Why walk when you can drive?  Why cook when you can order in?  Why knit a hat or a sew a skirt when you can buy either one for so much cheaper*?  And, why bother writing something longhand when the contemporary counterparts to letter-writing are cheaper, faster, more convenient, and more efficient?

They’re good questions.  They are big questions, actually, that give me pause.  I’m certain we all know quite well the beauty of a slower way of life — that’s why we take vacations, right?  So, we could ask, is more efficient always better?  Or, what’s with our obsession with efficiency, anyway?  Or, as my cousin Kristin queries, “what, exactly, are we in such a hurry to get to?”

handmade love

handmade love

In truth, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t appreciate a slower, handmade, homemade life in some way.  Even my most “modern” tech-obsessed friends will still linger for hours over a long-cooked meal or insist on doing their own home renovations, and conversely, the most soulful person I know in the world is absolutely entranced by race cars.  We all know the convenience of speedy things, (they make our lives easier) and we all know the unmatchable feeling of being as close as possible to our own vitality, something I’d call slow living.

a cherishable correspondence

a cherishable correspondence

The reactions I hear when I tell people about my letter-a-day practice lead me to believe a lot of us are wanting to slow down, or at least, have some more slow living in our lives.  Maybe the so-called tension is understood less by analyzing our obsession with speed and efficiency (or boycotting it) and more by exploring our values — those intrinsic and highly personal beliefs about what is important in life. Culturally, we value newness, speed, and productivity — that stuff is easy to come by these days.  But individually, maybe we don’t, or don’t…as much.  Perhaps individually we value spaciousness, self-expression, or connection — those things hard-won via text message or while moving a 100 miles an hour. Maybe we are simply letting our cultural values run our lives?

So, how do we connect with our personal values and then let them dictate who and how we are more of the time?  Well, first we have to know what they are.  (Awareness is everything, right?)  What do you most value?  What’s most important to you?  Is it fully alive in your life?

Admittedly, I might have thrown in the towel on the 30-letter-in-30-days around Day 9 if I didn’t stop

a welcomed greeting

a welcomed greeting

to consider what was really important about it for me.  When I saw that it was a practice that might build my reservoir of patience, and that it was a way to express (without my old favorite editing-tool, the delete button) my gratitude and love for people, it was easier to stick with it.  This small expression of slow living became more accessible to me once I understood where it was rooted.

Thanks for being with me on the Treelife Blog this January!  More on slow living coming soon.

*This is my first footnote on the Treelife Blog and I want to make it count.  “Cheaper” clothing, in almost any instance, is probably not cheaper when you actually consider ALL the costs involved.  Michael Pollan, with the help of his beloved farmer friend Joel Salatin, effectively articulates in Omnivore’s Dilemma the truth about the “higher cost” of organic food.  They put it this way, “whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our [small-production/local/organic/sustainable] food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water – of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.” While I know much less about the true costs of “cheap” clothing than I do about “cheap food” I know that the same basic principles apply.  That is, that the social, environmental, and long-term economic costs, notwithstanding the basic tenants of fair wages and fair trade, of producing cheap clothing are not figured into the price we pay for a pair of pants from the gap.  With mass-produced food and with mass-produced anything, really, true cost involves much more than the number of dollars we actually have to dig into our [mass-produced] pockets for.  Taking this into account, particularly if we are choosy about how we source our fabric and yarn, makes sewing a skirt or knitting a hat seem less-expensive than before.  For more information on true cost, check out The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization.

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Food: The Love Factor

The Official Book of the Month, my friends, is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It’s slaying me, as my friend Abby would say.  (If I read half as much as Abby, I’d have three honorary doctorates right now, but that’s another blogpost).   I’ll allow you two tries — that’s what it took for me.  The 1st time I picked it up, it seemed altogether too celebratory about a topic that is actually an international health, food, and farming crisis.  The fact that it doesn’t take the kind of tone we humans reserve for crises, had me a bit skeptical.  Where were all the scary statistics?  The fear-based arguments?  Where was the anger?  The blaming?  Don’t they want me to feel like an idiot for eating what I’ve been eating my whole life?  9 months ago, I put this book down after 15 pages…and then along came the intelligent voters of my book club, and alas, here I am reading and absolutely adoring it.  In what context is timing (and, perhaps, mandate) not everything?

steam

delayed gratification

So, request it at your library.  Grab a copy of it used.  Or, borrow mine when I’m done.  I think it’s even out in paperback now.  Just promise me you’ll read it this summer, because, let’s face it — summer is when the bounty is highest.

I’m not going to make this blogpost a book report, so go ahead and keep reading.  In fact, I’m not going to attempt to sum up the beautiful and most compelling argument this book makes about what to eat and when.  Barbara Kingsolver, even on a bad day, could persuade me to consume copious amounts of dog vomit, and convince me it was tasty, with her lovely turn of phrase.  You’re going to read the book this summer anyway — you already promised — so I don’t need to restate what’s already been said so well.

This is what I do need to say:  Food!  The Love Factor. All this talk about food — what’s in it? what’s not?  where’d it come from? who touched it? where did it spend its adolescence? how far did it travel before I bought it? how many precious fossil fuels were used? who’s selling it? who’s reaping the major reward here?  gets me, truly it does.  The who, what, when, where, and why of food production has dramatically altered the way I shop and eat.  If I could talk about food politics as beautifully as our gal, Babs Kingsolver, I’d get on my soapbox too.

Barbara is held in high esteem

Barbara is held in high esteem

And at the same time, there’s a central point I want to drive homeMake fresh and healthy food at home, from scratch, because that way you can put love in it. You read me right — love.  I’m talking about an ingredient that can’t be measured — whose impact can never be made statistical.  Love.  We need love in our food.  Why?  Because, we are what we eat, my friends.  Foodlove heals, fills, and nourishes in a way empty, processed, calories never can and never will. This is one of life’s tastiest mysteries.

is there love in there?

is there love in there?

What I’m really talking about is an old thing I’ll call “The Grandma Effect.”  Why does the food Grandma makes taste so good?  Why is it so healing?   Because there is actually love in it.  Cups and pints of it.  Now, I don’t mean to be cryptic or cute.  I realize I’m stating an obvious thing — and yet, we get away from it.  We — so many of us — fill our lives with Costco frozen appetizers and Krispy Kreme platters and call it a party.  In the meanwhile, we are starving for foodlove.

3 ingredients

3 ingredients

I want to break it down this way: There are two kinds of love found in food:
1. Active Love. Active Love is simply — just doing it.  It means I care enough about you to go to some effort.    This is the one Grandma may not even realize she’s doing because she doesn’t know it any other way.  This is the Love that implies we know and understand where our food comes from.  We respect it, and want to use it well — do it right.  This is the Love that means we make the time because someone is coming over to our home to share a meal.  We get our hands wet; dirty up some dishes; start at the beginning.  The Active Love involved in making something from scratch sends this message: “Your presence here is important to me.  I want to take care of you.  I made this with my own two hands.” Simple as that, whether you are making a 3-ingredient fruit salad or a 3-day, 3-layer cake.

making dough

active love

Barbara Kingsolver takes it many steps further, and with good reason.  I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but the love theme runs rampant in this book!  The farmers love their crops and their customers and the land enough to treat them all right.  The vegetables and animals love their lives.  The cooks and gardeners love the satisfaction that only comes from hard work and a sense of ownership.  And, of course, the eaters love the results.  Wholesome.  Homegrown.  Homemade.  Garden.  Farmer. Harvesting.  From Scratch.  Don’t those words alone make you want to roll out some dough?

The Love Quotient runs high in the Kingsolver kitchen because Barbara and her family take the concept of eating locally to a whole new (actually, very old) level.  They befriend their local farmers, harvest their own chickens, can, pickle, make cheese, and mostly grow their own.  They truly eat with the seasons — waiting all year for those 6 weeks when their asparagus plants sprout, and then eat asparagus like they’ll never eat it again…and they won’t, for about 46 weeks.

communal cooking

communal cooking

The philosophy is this: by the time it’s no longer “in season” you are sick of eating it anyway, and a year later, you can’t wait to bite into it again.  Delayed satisfaction.  Quality and Simplicity.  Hard Work. Well, wrap an American Flag around me — aren’t those the kind of values our country was founded on?  Why does this make the love quotient higher?  Because it brings the earth into the equation. It sings the praises of nature — the way it provides for us (with a little canning and hoarding through the winter thrown in) which, inevitably imbues our lives with a sense of abundance and perfect order.  Eating locally means taking care of everyone — that’s love.

intentional love

intentional love

2.  Intentional Love. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle doesn’t cover this kind of love, hence my need to write this blogpost.  Once you have started making something from scratch (Step 1) Intentional Love means actually putting love into the dish (Step 2).  Mindfully put it there, as you are stirring, chopping, or frying.  Love it.  Think about who will eat it.  Put your own unique healing powers into the soup or the souffle by simply taking a moment to want them there.  Infuse the food with your own intentions.  (This is the Grandma Effect, Part II, I assure you.)

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

Alas, my friends, the message here is simple.  It doesn’t matter what you are making — just make it from scratch.  Stay home.  Have people over.  Feed them.  Nourish them.  Go to a bit of trouble for them. Love them. Put your whole heart into it.  I promise, it will taste amazing.  Is there absolutely anything in the world we need more, as human beings, than to feed each other?

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