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.
So here is the moment, or one of them, I have been waiting for. It is not one that makes me particularly proud, but so what? I’m posting honest musings from an urban homesteader, not packaged ones. No gift wrap and bows here. Just the real dirt, inside and out.
So what’s the story? Well, for some reason I can barely stand to look at the garden these days. I walk outside, enjoy the last of the sunny autumn days, look at the garden beds planted with “green manure,” consider the few kale, sorrel, basil, pepper and yet-producing cucumber plants out there, and run back inside the house, exhausted by it all.
I can barely stand the notion of doing anything with my green tomatoes and feel nearly apathetic about the bountiful apple and pear harvest in full swing. Hell, last night I had the husband order a pizza.
I seem to be shutting down, turning off, lurching to the couch with a book and blanket when I should be scurrying around in the final punch of putting foods by. I think I’m experiencing blowback. Yeah, I have reason to be tired, and no one would fault me the efforts I have put into this life, but so what? That’s what this life is about. How is it that I’m feeling indifferent to the bounty? Where is that reason-for-the-season spirit?
Now I have always been honest with you. I’m not doing all this work in the garden or kitchen because I’m either a half-wit or a purist. There is real cause for the effort, but I have always made a point of outing myself lest someone turn me into a role model. Hell, that would be too much to bear. I’ve got my happy-in-the-garden days and days, like the ones I have been experiencing lately, that depress me. Days when I think the only thing to do is gussy up and go shoe shopping. Yep, you heard me. I went to the mall.
Now I can’t say it was all that satisfying. I did like getting dressed up, but I’ve got real history dressing up. You see, I was raised on Vogue fashions. My father was an old-world tailor, apprenticed in Europe where the trade really meant something. He landed his first job within a few days after coming off the boat and stayed in the finest fashion houses in New York City throughout his career.
More importantly to me, however (I was a self-involved teenager, after all), was the fine personal tailoring I enjoyed and the shoes, hats, gloves, blouses, and miscellaneous accessories he would bring home after the season’s runway show. Ooh la la, kid-leather pumps and matching gloves. I know you feel for me.
Not only was my father sure to supply me with the best of the fashion world, but he himself was impeccable in every way. Tailored suits, cufflinks, silk ties, crisp shirts (which he always ironed), polished shoes, and never, ever, a T-shirt and jeans. I mean never. We were a stylish family, and not just by his urging. Nope, it was in the genes. If Marcus (my dad) was a fashion maven, I was his disciple.
I don’t think there was ever a time when I wasn’t interested in making a fashion statement. Even my fall from fashion grace during the late 1960s was peppered with design. I was the kid hanging out at the park in white silk slacks and tie-dye.
So giving up the fashion ghost has not been easy for me. In fact, I distinctly remember the moment at the Seattle WTO symposium and protests when I knew I would have to kick Paris fashions to the curb. No joke. It was a grieving of sorts, since it had always been a fantasy of mine to shop in the salons of Paris and send the outfits to my hotel room where I would engage in a personal viewing for my doting young lover (hey, if you’re going to indulge in make-believe . . .). Of course, I wasn’t completely frivolous. Sending the lover off to school in the morning (OK, law school if it makes you feel better), I would ring room service for the salt-of-the-earth — good coffee and the perfect croissant — to be enjoyed on my balcony overlooking the city.
So you see, I can relate to anyone struggling with this movement. I understand there are sacrifices that are sometimes too hard to bear. Luckily I have lived in Portland since 1978, which is long enough for a full fashion detox to take hold. God only knows what would have happened if I had to go cold turkey. I mean, until recently there was no real sense of style in this town; at least not one faithful to Paris fashions, fine tailoring, and even finer fabrics. Nope, this is/was a ready-to-wear town in Gortex and fleece. But old habits die hard. My husband still has to remind me that you don’t have to dress to go downtown.
So you’d think I’d be over it all by now. You’d think I would put my fancy self to rest since fashion is part of the poodle-ing of America I complain about. So what gives? Why did I feel particularly saucy prancing around in my latter-day Carnaby Street outfit the other day? Oh, I tried to play it down like it (or I) wasn’t really all that hot (you know the drill), but just as I was doing the full prance, I was busted by a friend registering voters in front of the post office. Holy crap. Talk about immediate karma.
“Don’t you look nice,” is what she said, but I figure there was some degree of judgment going on. Not that she’s kind of gal. Really, I think she struggles with the cost of caring as much as I do. Well, maybe as much, or else has come to terms with it in a way I have not. Still, I do a lot of big talking, so it seems fair if she did find fodder for a little gossip: “Guess which urban homesteader I saw today doing the hot trot?” Of course, she probably never even thought to mention it, but I felt both silly and sassy. In truth, I would have deserved a bit of it.
I would have preferred, I suppose, to be found signing up voters on the last day of registration than being caught doing the runway walk, but I wasn’t. It was a consolation of sorts that I was at the post office sending off the certified letter and check to the mortgage company. Honestly, I think my friend was more impressed with my shoes. They were pretty nice.
So today I am writing to say it happens. That in between the clear moves towards solutions are the moments when you just have to go back into the closet and pick out the furthest thing from a pair of overalls you can find. You need to embrace your fashion self or fine-dining self or high-living-in-high-style self, because it was all something to behold. But it is still a part of stuff we never imagined it would be, and that is true too. It is all so strange and sad some days. Sad to witness the passing of a lifestyle you never imagined could be so injurious to the planet.
So that’s today’s musing from the urban homesteader. Keep reading. Tomorrow (or someday) I will tell you how to hand-stitch a pair of old overalls into a sexy backyard party dress. Honestly, I once tried.
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An American native
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
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