When I saw that Patti’s challenge to us this week was History, I knew just where to look in my photo files — Old World Wisconsin. I was a historical interpreter for this 480-acre living history museum for three seasons. I interpreted 19th century life in Wisconsin dressed as an Irish immigrant, a German immigrant, and a church organist in a settler’s Village.
When I was allowed to bring my 21st century camera on site, what I wanted to capture was the simplicity of that life and its harmony with nature.
The ideas of “progress” and “technology” were quite different in the day. I used to ask school children if they saw any technology being used, and they always said, “No.” What I quickly pointed out was that there was plenty of technology, just a different kind – mechanical or hand tools instead of electronic ones.
It’s important never to neglect or abandon the simpler items in our tool kit. It’s quite possible that we may depend on them again. In fact, the U.S. military sent a division to the museum to learn how to use 19th century farm equipment so that they could assist in re-development projects in Afghanistan. Watching them walk down the dirt roads of the Village dressed in their desert camouflage uniforms was mind-boggling.
The lesson of history is that wisdom takes a long view.
Sometimes I think WordPress has a surveillance camera on my life! How else would they know that my world is entirely chaos at the moment while I, in my natural state, am an extremely organized person? It so happens that I’ve just moved home and home business 35 miles away into a new rental. A normal move is somewhat chaotic. Add to that the fact that our home business is an online used book (and music and whatnot) store called Scholar and Poet Books. (Find us on Facebook or Ebay!) In our inventory and in our rental home, we have AT LEAST 25,000 books. Being quite the ambitious, self-sufficient types, we thought we could move those ourselves over a two-month period. We’re also over 50, both of us. And most of those books were in the attic, 3 flights of stairs up from the curb. Long story short, we had to hire professionals to help us pack up and move the last 285 boxes of books, each weighing roughly 50 lbs. Now all of that is in our new home, and we’re unpacking and organizing. Another yuuuuge task. *sigh* But our new place is gorgeous, a ranch-style house with only one flight of stairs (down to the basement), on land owned by the Conservation Foundation for which I work. I am not complaining! I’m just sharing what a bit of chaos is like — interesting, challenging, exhausting, stimulating. Here’s a gallery of our old place:
We are heading into the biggest retail season of the year, so I want to take this opportunity to invite you to consider mindfully and gracefully your relationship to….stuff. How do your buying habits impact the planet? Where do you shop? Where do the businesses you support get their resources? What do you do with stuff you don’t want anymore? How do you share what you have?
The resources that are expended on the manufacture, trade and transportation of goods on a global scale are staggering and crippling for our planet. It’s hard to imagine the impact that one shopper has in the whole of that web, but to make ethical and moral choices is the responsibility and joy of citizenry on Earth. You get to live out your values each day. That is the difference you make.
Now, I recognize that the urge to buy things can be deeply entrenched in complex psychological motivators, and I’m not about to claim any authoritative understanding of that. I just know that I don’t have a “shopper’s personality”. I don’t get excited about buying things or receiving material gifts. (This was an enigma to my husband, may he rest in peace, who really enjoyed giving me presents.) I do enjoy using something up completely and never replacing it if possible, finding new ways to use stuff that’s already around, and finding other people who can enjoy stuff that I no longer need.
With all the stuff that’s already been made and is overflowing junk yards and landfills, I think we can all do a better job at using what’s already here. My partner Steve feels the same way. He’s been running an online used book store out of our apartment for the last 10 years or so. He goes to estate sales, book sales and thrift stores and buys good books, unusual books, quality books and lists them on retail websites as a third-party seller so that people who are looking for a specific used book can find it easily at a fair price. He loves books. He’s got a B.A. in English, and his very first job was at the public library. There’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands or the smell of an old book from your grandmother’s attic!
Steve’s small business is called Scholar and Poet Books. If you value or collect books, music, vintage printed material or puzzles, check out our inventory. You can see our listings on eBay Here, or browse our book list on ABE Books Here. If you shop on Amazon, you may see our name on the list of sellers for a particular item, but we can’t direct you to our inventory exclusively. (Many of Amazon’s third-party sellers are actually large warehouses.) If you have friends who are bibliophiles, you can share our Facebook page with them. Thank you for reading this post and considering my invitation. May your decisions about Stuff bring you joy and peace!
My mother’s birthday is but 2 days away now. I’ve told you a bit about her specific talents in music, cooking and parenting, but she also possesses a general talent for being organized and efficient. She is a Domestic Engineer, by her own reckoning. She comes by it honestly, for her much-admired father was a professional electrical engineer. Her administrative skills are well-developed and have been applied to a multitude of volunteer positions, from Girl Scout leader to chamber concert coordinator to clerk of the Vestry to museum archivist. She has raised money, written newsletters, cataloged artifacts, designed living and office space, kept detailed financial records, chronicled events, communicated, consulted, collaborated, and carried on for so many organizations that I could never recall them all. To my knowledge, she has not received any remuneration since graduating from college. Nevertheless, she is highly professional and knows how to get a job done. Because of her, my awareness of basic functional habits goes back to my early childhood. Here are 10 of her specific instructions.
1) Write it down. Whatever it is, a shopping list or a line of poetry, if you want to remember and refer to it, write it down. My mother’s tiny notes could be found in any number of spiral bound flip pads in our house. She’s not so untidy as to leave them on single Post-Its or envelopes. I now carry Moleskine pads in my hiking backpack because even on the trail, my thoughts are harmonized with the echo of my mother’s admonition: write it down.
2) Use double-entry bookkeeping for your finances. With numbers, it’s better to write it down twice. (Sorry, Mom. I stopped doing this a long time ago, and I also don’t balance my checkbook anymore. Online debit records are all I’ve got now. Don’t worry; it’ll do.)
3) Label it. Remember those label-making guns that punched letters one by one onto a plastic strip? That was a bit much for Mom, but her laundry marking pen, white cotton bias tape and adhesive tape were always on hand. With four girls in the house and summer camp every year, you can bet she was keen to keep everything straight. Even our dolls were marked at the nape of the neck with our initials. Why else would my doll be called ‘P Baby’?
4) Never go upstairs empty-handed. (You’d laugh, Mom, at how many times I have said this to Steve as he’s moving books up and down from the attic.) I went so far as to purchase stair baskets when I had 4 kids and a big house. Making every effort efficient was my mother’s goal, within the house and in the broad world. So…
5) Plan your errands well in advance. For most of their marriage, my parents shared one car. On the one or two days in the week when she had a vehicle, her route was specifically engineered to save time and gas. There was no “running out to pick up something” at odd times of the day. Everything — bank, library, dry-cleaners, grocery store, filling station, school, church office — was expertly orchestrated in one trip. I have internalized this mode. I do not “shop” or browse or dilly-dally when going to procure something. Even a Christmas tree. (ask Susan) This trait drives Steve nuts sometimes. It’s not spontaneous; it’s not in the moment; it’s not an interesting way to travel. I have to turn off the “get the job done” mentality deliberately when our purpose is experience.
6) Clip coupons and keep them organized. This is part of planning your errands and shopping trips. Mom’s library scissors were always in the center drawer of her desk. When Dad was done with reading the paper, she’d get to work. It’s a habit that can get out of hand, though. I always kept a card file box full of coupons, most of which had expired long ago, in my kitchen. Finally, when I moved, I pitched it, but not without hesitation. I now keep just a handful under a magnet on my fridge.
7) Waste not. This is deep in Mom’s blood and deep in mine, Scottish heritage and all. Keep those bones for soup stock. Keep that packing material for your next mailing. Keep those worn jeans for shorts and patches. And you can bet that with 4 girls, the youngest (me) was always in hand-me-downs! I think most Americans have lost this value long ago, much to the disadvantage of the planet.
8) Recycle. Mom was doing this before it was convenient. There was no curb-side recycling in the 60s, but along with her other errands, she’d visit the recycling center with paper sacks of old newspapers, boxes of aluminum cans, and glass bottles separated by color. There was no plastic recycling then.
9) Load your appliances correctly. Dishwashers and washing machines and dryers take lots of energy…your own as well as the power company’s. Learn to pack them well. My mother was always able to get more into the dishwasher after I’d loaded it. I’ve gone back to washing dishes by hand, but I’m always trying to figure out how to use less water and fit more on the drying rack. It’s a good practice.
10) Put the kitchen to bed before you retire. A clean kitchen in the morning is a lot nicer to wake up to. A clean house is nicer to come home to after a vacation. I think of the ending scenes in PBS programs like “Upstairs, Downstairs” and The Boston Pops concerts: the char woman cleaning up before the lights go out, and the stage is ready for the next installment. It gives me a very settled feeling to follow this example. Of course, tidy endings aren’t always attainable. That’s life. I do my best.
How did people in the northern land of Wisconsin stay warm through those hard winters in the 19th century, without electric blankets, natural gas furnaces or radiators? Wood fires, wool, fur and the sauna…naturally.
Seems pretty simple to me.
(In response to the Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge.)
I’ve found another Word Press Photography challenge! Joining my pals Jeff Sinon and Mariah of Great Follies, I am going to see if Photography 101 helps me to get better at picture taking. The first assignment is ‘Home’.
I have was born on the East Coast (Salem, MA) and lived on the West Coast for 15 years, but the Midwest is where I’ve spent most of my life. I raised 4 kids here and brought myself through elementary school and mothering years by staying connected to woodlands and prairie. I photograph the land quite a bit. But home is movable. I love to travel and feel at home in lots of places. Where my heart is vulnerable and needs sheltering, centers around the table.
When I share a meal, I am inviting you into my deepest home. I am offering care and sustenance, as I need to be cared for and sustained. The people who eat at my table are family, whether by blood or by honor. We create Home together in mutual covenant. It is a sacred space.
I have just finished reading a very informative book by Jane Goodall on the subject of Food. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating has led me to reconsider the way I buy and cook and eat food. Much of it is based on common sense and natural practices (What would a chimp choose to eat? Have you ever seen an overweight chimp in the wild?), and much of it exposes the insanity that is our factory food production here in the “civilized” world. How civilized is it to cram thousands of chickens together in a cage, remove their beaks so that they can’t peck each other to death, pump them with antibiotics and force them to cannibalize their own kind by giving them non-vegetarian feed? And then to slaughter them, ship their polluted flesh over thousands of miles burning fossil fuels, and eat it? I was not thinking about that when I bought Super Saver packages of chicken breasts at my local super market. I think about it now.
And here is the surprising gift of hope: my children have been thinking about this for years. I didn’t lead the way.
Here is another arena of hope: reclaiming, salvaging and recycling living space. My daughter and her fiance purchased a home that had been severely water damaged and mold and mildew infested. The inhabitants had moved out to hospice care and died; the house was abandoned, but the water wasn’t shut off. In the winter freeze and thaw, the pipes broke and flooded the place. What a mess! But Joe comes from a family line of carpenters and construction wizards. He has completely re-worked the house: plumbing, electric, heating, floor plan and surfaces. He’s gotten neighbors, friends and family involved in the labor and in donating fixtures. The final step will be relocating the back yard garden. You see, this house is just a few doors down the street from the one they’ve rented for the past 3 years. So, by their wedding date one year from this month, they will have their own home and garden. They are marvelous role models for sustainable living, and I am so proud of them! Yesterday I went down to visit and take pictures. They sent me home with a bunch of produce from their garden. I am so grateful and awed by how life unfolds. The next generation is certainly capable of taking responsibility and working hard in a sustainable direction. Let’s just hope many of them choose to!
Milwaukee can be a rather uninspiring place in the dead of winter. Not that the light, feathery, cotton candy snow that piled up overnight wasn’t beautiful. As we walked to the breakfast cafe to meet Steve’s mother, we came up with an alphabetical list of adjectives for this particular day’s precipitation. I don’t want to complain about the temperature hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit, although it is a favorite local custom. There are much better ways to engage the imagination, and I live in a house which reminds me of this every day.
Scholar & Poet Books is the name of our other roommate. The drafty, old duplex we share rises over 4 levels: basement, first floor, second floor, and attic. She occupies every level and every staircase. She completely fills “my” closet while some of my clothes have languished in suitcases under the bed for 3 years. I am learning to appreciate her presence instead of begrudging her seeming dominance. In fact, I think I am coming around to choosing her company.
After Sunday breakfast with Mom, we returned to her, eager to taste her bounty. Samplings for the day included Irish, French, Argentine, Tibetan and Yiddish. She expands our consciousness, delights our senses and supports our livelihood and our dreams. Her body is an amalgam of tens of thousands of books and CDs with a few hundred other artifacts thrown in. She is library, concert hall and museum. She is introvert heaven.
We started by reading aloud a poem by W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”, the howling North Atlantic wind of the Irish verses being matched by the Wisconsin bluster that rattled our windows. After delving a bit into Yeats’ biography, Steve then began his daily business of listing our friend’s appendages for sale while I went downstairs to do the dishes and make bread. After lunch, while the loaves baked, we began to discuss our plans to travel to Tibet. Internet research prompted a search through our stacks to find more information on that side of the planet. Steve came down with 6 books of varying relevance. When the bread was safely out of the oven, we went upstairs to watch a DVD, Manon of the Spring, having watched Jean de Florette just weeks before. This emotional tale of French village life transported us visually and linguistically to another world in a simpler century. I tried, unsuccessfully, to pick out the movie’s musical theme on my harmonica before returning to the kitchen to make dinner.
When we’d finished our meal and our wine, we retired to the bedroom to peruse the wall of jewel cases. We settled on a CD of Argentinian folk songs and dances by Suni Paz. In contrast to the Irish ballads we lit upon at first, these undulating rhythms drew us deeper into the sultry passions beneath our awakened senses…
Fueled by a solid Monday morning breakfast, we dove into the business of packaging our sales, accompanied by Moishe Oysher singing Yiddish, bluesy, vaudeville, Hollywood-like tunes. I have no idea what they were about, but his passages of improvised “scatting” made me think of Tevye stomping and shaking around in his barn, pouring out his desires to be a rich man. One of the books we packaged was sent to a Jewish community center in New York; it was a children’s book called Klutzy Boy. It made me laugh.
The anthem of my Alma Mater, Scripps College, starts: “Strong in the strength of all, venturing together, searching, exploring the life of the mind…” In the midst of a Milwaukee winter, this is the antidote to cabin fever. I’m grateful to be shacking up with Scholar & Poet Books.
(author’s note: to browse our inventory listed on A.B.E. Books, click HERE. To visit our eBay Store, click HERE.)
© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.
Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.
I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.
Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?
When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.
Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.
© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved