Renew, Reuse, Recycle…


We live in a fairly eco-conscious area, so when my older daughter (OD) started kindergarten, she began talking about the importance of “renew, reuse, recycle.” We have a great recycling program in our city, so very little goes to waste; our recycling container is usually twice as full as our trash container.

I realize now that I’ve been recycling long before it was popular. I remember going to garage sales with my mom back in the 1970’s, and how exciting it was to find a great toy for a quarter. My mom would buy desks and dressers and fix them up. I haven’t been to a garage sale in a long time, but I love the thrift shop in our neighborhood, and Craigslist – really, a giant online garage sale – is the first place I look for furniture, toys, and video cassettes/DVDs. (And yes, I’m the strange woman driving slowly  through the streets on trash day, who gets excited when she sees your broken, two-legged chair.)

I’ve always encouraged OD to make things instead of buying them, and that has worked for a long time (except that one time when I was making dinner and she asked me if I could help her make an overhead projector). Although she uses a lot of paper, she reminds us that it’s wasteful not to use both sides; and after a project reaches the end of its useful life, she knows to put it in the recycling bag.

And wonderfully, as I’ve been cleaning out and organizing the house, I’m finding that the kids love putting to use items that have been lingering in cabinets or on basement shelves. OD fell in love with a CD rack (probably from the ’80’s) that I found, and is fascinated with an old tape recorder, which was obsolete long before she was born. She also loves going to thrift stores with me (which to someone her age, are like museums), and asking what eight-track tapes are, or what that strange appliance is. It’s weirdly educational.

Renewal is a common theme in the poetry of Modern writer H.D. In this excerpt from “A Dead Priestess Speaks,” she reminds us of the hidden life in everyday things:

If you take the moon in your hands
and turn it around
(heavy, slightly tarnished platter)
you’re there;

if you pull dry sea-weed from the sand
and turn it round
and wonder at the underside’s bright amber,
your eyes

look out as they did here,
(you don’t remember)
when my soul turned round,

perceiving the other-side of everything,
mullein-leaf, dog-wood leaf, moth-wing
and dandelion-seed under the ground.


Preempting the Holiday Blues, Part II: Simplicity


Yesterday Jeff and I went to see the new movie version of “Anna Karenina.” Although I might have preferred a more traditional take on the novel (the movie kept pushing the concept of “life is a stage,” which I feel has been done to death), the cinematography was sumptuous and the costumes luxe with pearls, fur, velvet.  The main characters travel in a world with every luxury, but the most satisfying scene by far is when pampered society girl Kitty, newly married to a philosophical young man, tends to her new husband’s very ill father. When she helps clean his ravaged body and we see the surprised expression on her husband’s face, we forget the opulence and focus on this brief episode of humanity and connection, in a time when a simple bath was rare, and water was not necessarily clean or disease-free.

Although I probably have too many pairs of shoes to call myself a minimalist, I love reading about the simplicity movement, and its emphasis on experiences versus things. One of my favorite books is The Simple Living Guide, in which author Janet Luhrs describes how to move toward a simpler life in every way, from how we celebrate the holidays to choosing a place to live. I first read this book after graduating from college, and it gave me faith that no matter what I became or what income I was able to earn, I would be okay in the most important ways.

In our depressed economy, when we have less to give materially, the simple act of caring for another – through touch, listening, or simple eye-contact amid a world of distractions and iPhones –  is a gift we all can use. I love Tomas Transtromer’s poem “The Half-Finished Heaven,” which describes this kind of ideal connection:

Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.


(Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton)

The virtues of older houses

I spent much of this weekend trying to make our 1942 house – with its tiny closets, single bathroom, and many quirks – function better in our current lives. My youngest daughter is almost three and now largely trained in what not to do – pull books from bookshelves, dump contents of drawers – so I was able to return office supplies to desk drawers, move the printer next to the desk again, put important papers back in accessible spots. In yet another moment of DIY excitement, Daughter #1 kept Daughter #2 busy while I ripped an old shelving structure out of the hall closet to make more space – creating a dozen craters in the plaster walls which will now need to be patched and painted.

Despite the accommodations we sometimes have to make, I love our house. It’s close to the city, so Jeff often bikes to work, or takes the subway if he’s too tired. We’re walking distance to the State Theatre (an old movie theatre converted to nightclub, where Blondie (!) is playing tonight), a variety of restaurants, a library, toy store, and farmers’ market. I love the many windows (we often don’t turn on the lights during the day – it’s that bright!), the arched entryways, the old doors with skeleton keyholes.

I like the way that our house encourages us to keep our lives simple; before purchasing anything, we think about where the object will be stored. We keep outgrown/unneeded objects moving out of the house via Craigslist, FreeCycle, or drop-offs at the local thrift store. It helps that we’re not collectors – except maybe of books – and that we have a large fenced yard to set the kids loose in.

We started reading the second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, Little House on the Prairie, last week. The first half of the book is about the family’s move from Wisconsin to the west, and how they built their new cabin from nothing: putting up the walls and roof; building a fireplace from stones and mud; digging a well. My daughter was impressed that the family could load all of their belongings into a single wagon.  It must have been liberating to know that you could create what you needed, wherever you went, whether it was a toy, a pipe, or a house.

On the comforts of home that we often overlook, I love Lee Herrick’s poem “Evening in December” (from his book This Many Miles from Desire). Here’s an excerpt:

No sound. None. Except the tap
from the cat’s four paws. Now a few rain drops

like a drummer boy learning jazz, slapping
on roof. The scrape of the match on the box.

A full flash of flame and sizzle on the kindling.
Smoke hisses out of the bricks.
Here, let me say, I am home: near fire,
near water, near songs of the natural world.