Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.
The other day, while in search of plant hooks and wood putty, I ran into a friend of mine. He and his girlfriend used to come into the coffee shop I owned on Alberta Street in Portland. They seemed to be everything I was not: focused, career-minded, and of that planned-living mindset. They made good and thoughtful choices about their life — adult choices. He was the vice-principal of a grade school and she was a doctor. That they came to my coffee shop was the only indicator I had of their ability to stray off course. They eventually married and soon after had a child. They lived in a house he had totally remodeled. They were, in a word, “doers.”
And so it was my great surprise to find out that he had stepped down from his job to become a homemaker. He said that the stress and pace of life was driving them crazy and that now he has time to tend his home, make meals, and raise his daughter. He admitted to having a whole new relationship with his daughter that was incredible to him. He seemed happy, but I imagined it was because he knew who he was talking to. Admitting that you are stepping down or off the career path can sound a lot like an apology when it shouldn’t. Not if you have thought it through and know what you stand for. Which brings me to my own apology — er, decision.
My choice to return to the role of homemaker came after years of thought regarding economic systems. In fact, it was a key element in the decision. To be brief: If the global economy seemed so unwieldy and ruthless in the macrocosm, then perhaps I could better manage the flow and management of resources (which is the basis of most economic systems) in the microcosm. Instead of wrestling with the conditions of the world economy, I would address those of the home economy. Here, I imagined, I could face off with notions of privilege, greed, leisure, convenience, and indifference as it related to my own actions. In my own home, I could take on thrift, stewardship, and care for the planet. If I could not handle these tasks on the microcosm of my own life and home, then I could not fault others for their unwillingness to take them on in the macrocosm.
If these seem like somber motivations, then I suggest you return to my first post. I admit to being a tad heavy at times. The full mojo on my doctrine on living will soon be posted on the Preserve website. It is called “In Search of the Seamless,” and I wrote it to empty my head of the years I’ve spent thinking on economic matters. I am warning you, though, it’s a tedious tome full of musings on all things related to systems. It was my way of making sense of things, and I mention it only to suggest that my decision to embrace this new life is connected to something deep and meaningful to me.
Today I am happy to be entering a new phase. Even though these posts may very well look and smell like a freshly baked pie (I’m about to get up and make the crust), I am in it for the humility of walking the talk. I want to see (and expose to the world) how well I handle the responsibilities of being responsible. It is one thing to speculate about what we need to do as a nation and a world; it is another thing to go outside in a downpour to tend the water-catchment system, or turn the compost pile, or attempt to grow and preserve enough fruits and vegetable to make it through the year, year after year.
This is not a pilot project, but a new way of living for the long haul. And what I want to share with you is the honesty and humor of going backwards; the odd stabs, silliness, and soul of the search. Because, in the end, it is one thing to talk about stewardship, and another thing to wear the same old outfit to this year’s holiday bash.
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An American native
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Cracking a Filipino favorite