For a host of reasons that you know all too well, many of us are staying closer to home. Job insecurity, stock market decline, rising energy costs, unstable food prices. Spending money on a discretionary trip right now feels expensive, if not downright extravagant.
So we forgo it, make do without and plan for next year.
But staying at home need not be the disappointing, second-best, self-sacrifice it sometimes is made out to be.
As a student of homes and how we live in them, I feel like it is time for me to come out of the closet. I like staying home. I like the way the house changes its pace and patterns when I am on vacation. And I like the way it teaches and changes me in turn.
Vacation schedules differ from work schedules, and our lighting patterns broadcast that. Lights in a house are like semaphores on a ship. The pattern with which they go on and off reflect the nature and purpose of the life we inhabit. We see this more in others than ourselves. An episodic change in the lighting habits of a neighbor often signals a celebration, a meeting, trouble, even death. A habitual change often signals a new neighbor. Changing our lighting pattern reflects a change in our habit.
So too in the use of rooms. The kitchen often enjoys more company on vacation as I learn to make new dishes, using both familiar and exotic foods (even locally grown foods can be exotic to natives depending on our food habits). Or the kitchen is abandoned as I seek to avoid all forms of domesticity and housekeeping.
My husband’s paternal grandmother, a diminutive powerhouse of a homemaker, used to say it didn’t matter where they went for vacation - as long as she didn’t have to cook. (That was a difficult wish to fulfill for a kosher family in America in the early to mid-20th century.) For her, vacation was more a release from responsibilities, a liberated time allowing for a reconnection with and elevation of primacy of self than a discovery of others. I imagine that if her husband had hired a cook and cleaning crew to take over those chores every day for two weeks, despite her initial protestations (they would mess things up, they would break things, they would lose things, they would get in the way…), she would have been in heaven. (Though he might have heard some requisite fault-finding in their performance afterward.)
There is great spiritual power in the discovery of others: other places, other cultures, other foods, other habits, other ways of time, other kinds of flora and fauna, other use of natural resources. And travel is a prime way to experience that discovery.
But we often overlook the spiritual power of re-discovery of self, of home, of us in our place. There is so much we take for granted, overlook, never even knew.
Perhaps the unspoken gift of this time of increased at-home-ness will be this rediscovery of self and place. And with this rediscovery, a re-enchantment of self in place.
I am hoping over the summer months to publish several entries that speak to the discoveries and blessings we can encounter at home as we save fuel and energy and money by Staying at Home.
One of summer’s exquisite delights finds us slipping slowly into eveningtime from a favorite chair on a cozy porch. The coming of evening is not so much a show that we watch as a mood that comes over us. Neither the sun nor the air nor our friendly companion seems in any hurry for the light to go. In wintertime, at the end of our daily bath of sun, the light quickly slurps down the western drain. But in summer, the light languorously drips away. Each shade on the spectrum from bright to dark presents itself for our review, pausing so we may show it our appreciation.
We don’t always. We are often making dinner, or eating dinner, or watching television or otherwise occupied with life inside. Often, too, we don’t even notice the moment we flip on the lights and tune out the outside.
Yet, on those blessedly quiet days, when we take the time to be present with this still-awesome and miraculous world of ours, it is comforting, no, beyond that, Shabbat-like peaceful, to be swept up in this silent, arcing drama of the heavens that has repeated itself, incessantly, for over four billion years. And each evening it does it again, for us, taking its time in the warm air of summer to mine the moment for all it’s worth.
I wore a six-year old two-piece dress with a seafoam scoop-neck top to the weddings of my two older sons. I wore the same dress to my two youngest children’s bnai mitzvah celebrations just a few years earlier. I am hoping for more summer simkhas so I can get additional mileage out of it.
I know it is part of the American cultural ritual to buy something new for fancy events, each special occasion occasioning an expansion of the wardrobe. I could justify my recycling of the dress by arguing that with all the money we were already spending, why unnecessarily spend more? Truth be told, though, I liked wearing a previously worn dress.
I liked opening the school books at the beginning of the year and discovering the students from the grades above me whose karma now infused that book, binding me to them and the learning enterprise. I liked it when library books came with cards stamped with due dates that showed how often and how recently a book was taken out. I like buying used books from Amazon’s marketplace, pages smoothed and a little dog-eared by previous readers. Most of our family’s best children’s books are library discards – books once held on the laps of countless parents and children in the most tender moments of discovery. I like buying used wooden furniture studded with round water stains from iced-tea glasses accompanying long summer visits with dear old friends. I like old houses, old handbags, old chinaware.
If I could, I would live in a converted train station – imagining the people, the stories, the hellos and goodbyes, the tears and the pacing, the grumbling and the jokes that people would have told waiting for life’s little adventures to unfold. I would conjure up their voices at night and feel the vitality of life’s tidal forces.
I don’t quite understand the lust for new. New feels incomplete to me, possibilities without the wisdom to guide and temper it. The Old gifted as New seems to me the best of all worlds.
I recently heard of an e-establishment from whom you rent toys instead of buying them. You go on line, choose age-appropriate toys for your kids from this enterprising entrepreneur, use them for however long you want and then return them and get new toys. Kind of like Netflicks for toys.
And there is an outfit that rents handbags for a night.
I was talking with a potter who says that when she is stuck for a gift, she chooses a bowl from her home pottery collection, washes it off, and Voila, instant gift. I thanked her, for she had liberated my desire to do the same.
Imagine how rich we would be if the stuff we owned was coated with a patina of lives lived fully; if the gifts we gave were crowded with our stories, our memories, our blessings. Imagine if our daily acts were added, layer by layer, onto a tel of tales, a mound of memories captured and held by the stuff of our lives.
In the communities of Europe, Jews decorated their homes and synagogues with greens in honor of the holiday of Shavuot. They trimmed boughs from the woods and trees around them and strung them from their rafters and railings and walls. Temporarily redolent with nature’s sweet rawness, our domesticated places are transformed into outposts of Sinai. The scent of desert blossoms fill the air with subtle smells.
This late and all-but-lost tradition of greening on Shavuot would be most wonderful to recapture today. It would help us break the bifurcation we moderns construct between civilization (our buildings) and nature (the greenery). It helps remind us that religion, spirituality, is often most profoundly experienced in the presence of God’s majestic creation. It teaches us that while nature is not God, neither is God found in nature (we are not pagans), nature does serve as a witness, an expression, a demonstration of, and a path to God in this physical world.
And, thus, as we celebrate with greens in our home and shuls, and thus acknowledge the place of nature in nurturing the spirit, we become even more motivated to preserve, teach, and appreciate the majesty of creation. So much more would be lost through careless “progress” than the very real losses of biodiversity, potential medicinal discoveries, recreational space, untold resources. What also would be lost would be the power of nature to fire our imagination, to connect us to the boundless vastness beyond all our bounded concerns, to comfort us and calm us in our moments of panic, and to inspire us and connect us to the grand mystery of life and universe.
Shavuot, then, speaks on two eternal realms: Torah and creation. But as the mystics among us would be quick to point out, they are one and the same.
I just bumped into Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce. And I am just on page 21 - so you may know something about this book that I don’t. But I have been struck with the passion, data and hutzpah of the book already.
He takes on the myth of America’s business ethic - saying that “The ultimate purpose of business is not, or should not be, simply to make money… The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy.”
That is not the general way we hear people talking about business. Hawken argues that in order to live in a “green” society, we must not only ask how do we save the environment, we must also ask, how do we save business, for it is only when business can thrive while being green will we all prosper.
I will let you now if the book continues to inspire or takes a turn somewhere. But the datum that caused me to write this entry is the following:
According to Hawken, in 1993 - the year the book was written - humankind consumed in ONE DAY the amount of energy it took the young earth 10,000 days to create. That is, in 24 hours, we consume 27 years-worth of converted sunlight. And that was back then. Imagine the rate of consumption now.
No matter how big and how old the earth is, that rate of consumption is clearly way out of whack with a sustainable society.
That’s it. I just wanted to share that stunning datum. And suggest:
If we make a blessing every time we eat - thanking God for the energy that has gone into the sowing and growing and harvesting and threshing and kneading and baking, surely there ought to be a blessing every time we turn on the light.
This is so amazing, imaginative and suggestive of the miracles that lie unseen before us. Enjoy the visions it conjures up.(from the JCPA Insider)
Israel’s Plantware Creates Living Urban Jungle. A group of young Israeli idealists have found a way to manipulate roots from trees such as figs, and to grow them into useful structures. The aim is to one day build the structures of homes from living trees - and save the planet at the same time. Currently the company has taken its patented methods and built park benches, playgrounds, streetlamps and gates - all from trees. To read more and see video footage visit Israel21c.org.
The local CSAs are beginning in Baltimore. With the combination of the brilliant spring sun, the abundant spring rains and the glorious cool weather we should have a bumper crop of produce this year.
After so many years of lamenting the absence of spring, of feeling like we went from late winter to the midst of summer, from jacket weather at the beginning of the week to shvitzing by the end, we have finally been blessed with a spring whose glory merits praise. Something to tell the grandchildren about, just like the stunning blizzard of a few years ago.
Days that are cool at night and beckoningly lovely throughout the afternoon. Easy enough to work up a sweat, but only if you earned it. Not the humid, blistering warmth that melts you simply on contact.
Breakfast on the patio or porch mornings. Fresh and clean and renewing air.
I am on my back porch as I type this, looking out over our heavily wooded backyard. Various pieces of heavy equipment and previous heavy use tore up the ground around the trees seven years ago. For six years, the backyard stayed barren of ground-cover. The earth lay there, bare and forlorn, exposed to the elements. Only the relative flatness of the land, and a deep cover of leaves in the fall, prevented us from losing so much topsoil.
Then, sometime last summer, poof, the further section of our lawn began to sprout little patches of green. Not grass or high stalks that needed to be tended. Just curled, tender short ground-cover that modestly covered the naked earth. A little skirt of green, inching out here and there.
Somehow over the winter, through the magic that is the earth’s regenerative powers, that gentle, rolling, curling ground-cover migrated almost all the way to the house. Our backyard, while native, is not wild or overgrown but softly blanketed with sprouts reaching from side to side and all the way back to the pachysandra in the woods.
Why can’t we grow lawns like this - lawns which need no tending, no mowing, no use of fossil fuels for fertilizers or trimming or edging? Lawns that are sturdy to walk on and resilient and verdant and nature friendly? I would be someone who markets the seed or seedlings of this ground-cover, and others that do as well, would make a nice living.