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PAGAN TIME BY MICAH PERKS

I read this one very fast. Short and entertaining autobiography. And amazingly well written. Interestingly written. It is not your classic “tell a story” kind of book. American literature is full of those. This is more modern, more experimental. It can be confusing at times, yes, I admit. But I for one don’t care, because the writing keeps me captivated, not the story itself. She could talk about anything there. I am flabbergasted by the punctuation, by the use of second person point of view in a short paragraph here and there, by the mystery created through it all.

I am not saying that it is the most successful style. It can get tiring, but it is new and inciting. As a writer, I appreciate reading such books. I feel I can learn something of the craft. I guess we learn things from all the books we read. But believe me, this is a stylistic course. It is a beauty.

I also have to admit that the story was what attracted me first to this book. A childhood in a hippy commune.  You know I have a weakness for this type  of thing. But I forgot about it as soon as I started reading the first page.

This is my kind of book.

KNITTED AND FELTED BAG

I’ve had this idea for the longest time: to make a felted tote with leather handles. I thought it difficult to realize though. How much to knit to get a good size felt? How to attach the leather straps so they don’t look homemade? How to sew the lining — by hand or by machine — so it stays nicely stretched and even? What hardware to use? The headaches of bag making…

Then one day I found at the back of the closet an old wool vest that I had knitted for my husband and after washing it became very short and very wide, because I can (would) never follow pattern directions but make it all up as I go. I tried to felt the vest some more, cut it and sewed it again to make it into a tote. I cut the straps from an old leather bag that I have fallen out of love with and sewed them by hand, to the perfect length. Then I used the zipper pulls from the same old bag to make a sort of hanging/closure type of thing, to which I added some charms. The charms play a double role, both decorative and utilitarian, as they act weigh down the leather pulls, keeping the two sides of the bag together.

I think the result is quite beautiful. It looks professionally-made and I like that it still reminds me of the old vest a little. And don’t the heart-charms are quite suitable for this Valentine’s Day post.

I have been wearing the felted bag little throughout the winter, not because I don’t like it, but because it does not match my everyday coat. But this The Sak leather bag that I ended up buying in the fall has been great.

Actually, I used it in its original form for not more than two months when I decided that it lacked something. It was too plain. A black leather bag. And the strap was a bit too long. So I cut the strap and shortened it, which makes me very happy now because the bag hangs right under my armpit and when in falls from the shoulder I can still carry it on the arm without worries that it will drag on the floor. But the best idea ever was to sew on the bag these beautiful turquoise flowers, cut from an old leather wallet, for a bit of whimsy.

I traced them with a cookie cutter and cut them to shape, then I sewed the flowers to the bag by hand. And this is how now I have the perfect bag. No doubt about it.

Well, doubts will arise, no doubt, after a while. But until then, I can declare myself bag-happy.

RADICAL SIMPLICITY: SMALL FOOTPRINTS ON A FINITE EARTH BY JIM MERKEL

This is a book for those functioning more from the left side of the brain. It has more mathematical calculations than I would like. But, it is an honest, true writing, of a person with a strong passion for the subject. You can feel it at every step. And I am sure it appeals strongly to people so wired to need all the equations. Here are a few samples:

How many years would it take for the population to be reduced to 1 billion, if every family had just one child? Only 100 years.

How many countries in the world have an average of 1.5 children per family or less? 30. Most of these countries are european. Most of them are wealthy countries. Romania is European, not wealthy, but has a place among the 30, with an average of 1.3 children per family.

Although not among the 30 countries, US fares well, in the “two children or less” category, along with France and other few small nations. This is a little weird, because US doesn’t do well at all when it comes to family planning and contraception. It has the highest level of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Of every 1000 girls between 15 and 20, 59.2 get pregnant, compare to, be ready, 4.2 in Netherlands. My experience (of only 4 years in the US) showed that Americans are not afraid of big families, on the contrary, most desire a big number of children (for me big meaning 3-4). That’s what I’ve seen, at least,compared to Romania where one child is always in the plans, the second is almost always a “maybe”, and the third is simply “no way, Jose! We cannot afford it.”

The book helps you calculate your footprint, if you are so inclined. Footprint factor (ff) = energy footprint factor (eff) + land footprint factor (lff). This proved to be too much for me already. But I have to say I enjoyed parts of the books. It sparked spirited conversations with my husband about India and Kerala – a region in India given in the book as an example of sustainable society based on a low income. It is one of the few matriarchal communities in India and the author considers this one of the important factors of its well-being, because it is the cause of small families and a normal ration of boys-girls (100 to 104), compared to the rest of India where the ratio is 93 girls to 100 boys.

The author has an interesting history himself, a former weapon seller turned pacifist and simplicity advocate.

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by KAREN KINGSTON

clearyourclutterBe prepared to read this book very quickly. The author says it herself – it is a small book. In many ways, unfortunately. It is no match for my beloved Home Enlightment still so fresh in my mind. But many people have recommended this book on a simple living forum so I had to read it, right?

My first thought was: “Where is the Feng Shui?” I am no expert, I know, but except for a few references to the bagua diagram, the author only constructs the whole book on a clutter – psychological effect perspective: clearing the clutter will subsequently lead to unblocking energies, psychological obstructions. Her Feng Shui solution is – clear the clutter in certain parts of the house and different aspects of your life will flourish. After all, what more is there to say than – get rid of the clutter and once the physical clutter is out of the way, the mental and spiritual benefits are enormous. The message, although very simple, is extremely powerful, I have to say.

Oh, another Feng Shui reference that stuck in my mind – happily married couples will have many pairs in their homes – they will buy two of each thing just because “it feels right”. Interesting, right? Having things in pairs is good for relationships and single people should follow this rule if they want to find their soul-mates.

It is a simple little book that suffers from the lecturer’s syndrome – too manual-like. It has bigger aims than this, but doesn’t really reach there. It is very motivational, though. Does that. It made me go unclutter my daughter’s closet of old, small clothes. So, if motivation is what you’re looking for, go ahead and spend an afternoon with this book. Your house will be happier and subsequently… you know.

UPDATE – I need to change my review of this book.I need to say that it has already proven very useful to me – I used it in an argument with my husband. Oh, yeah. The argument was about packing boxes. His side- let’s keep all these packing boxes that we get sometimes in the mail. We might need them.” (He now needs a box to mail a book). My side “No. I am not storing a box for years for the remote possibility it would be perfect in a few years for an item we need to ship. It is not worth it.” His argument “ I am putting all the boxes in this big bag and storing them in the office closet.” Me – “What? There are other things that need to go in that closet. “ He – “Ok. I’ll fold them and I’ll put them in the attic.” At this point I take out the book. “Things stored in your attic can restrict your higher aspiration…”. It felt so good. In the end, I still gave in and accepted to store some boxes in the attic. But it doesn’t matter who wins, right? As long as everybody learns from the battle.

SOAP AND WATER (NATURAL SOAP AND CLEAN WATER, THAT IS)

Yes, it’s been a long time since I wrote about soaps, but now I am so excited about my new discovery that I had to share it. With cosmetic products, I usually do my research, read the labels and settle on a brand based on both price and natural-factor. As it is quite a long and frustrating project, I usually stay faithful to a brand or product type for a long time. For example, ever since discovering the castile soap, it has remained the only liquid soap we have been using in our home and I am very happy with it.

For solid soaps though, which we use too, I hadn’t found a convenient source. I kept buying them from fairs and ordering them online from small companies. But it did happen that we were once left without solid soap and my husband went to a big store and bought one of those enormous packages of five dozen of what he thought was at least a basic soap, with very few ingredients. We still have a lot of that soap after two years. Now I have finally discovered a grocery store solid soap that is both less expensive and perfectly natural. It’s called Olivella, it’s made in Italy from mostly saponified olive oil and water. It does have added glycerin and the one that I bought also has fragrance (but there is a fragrance-free option). And those are all the ingredients. Four of them. Fantastic, right?

But the biggest natural living improvement in our household has been the new water filtering system. I have been wanting it since … forever (it felt like it). Maybe two years ago I did all the research on water filtration systems and all the undesirable things in the water that I would like out. A big thing for me has been the fluoride. Our town water is fluoridated for the benefit of its good people and their teeth. Besides not agreeing to be medicated against my will and without my approval, I have been frightened by the controversy about the fluoride that they put in water, and how it is chemical plant waste, how it can affect the endocrine system and thyroid function, how there are risks of developmental issues in infants and how it doesn’t actually do much good that would balance all this bad. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a statement of concern and urged towns to reevaluate their fluoridation policies against the new studies. All this is frightening.

There are few (and expensive) water filtering systems, however, that can remove fluoride. One of them, which I found most convenient for my family and our lifestyle, is the Berkey water filtration system. One line that sold it for me was that these systems are used by relief organizations like the UNICEF, Peace Corps and the Red Cross. Another line is that you can fill it with water from a stagnant lake or a puddle, and you would get good drinking water at the other end. The filters do not need to be replaced for five to 10 years, depending on how much water you use. It doesn’t require any electricity and it’s made of stainless steel. Isn’t it perfect? They should pay me for how much I am advertising for them. I can’t help myself. I feel it’s a public service I’m doing here.

So, yeah, this is it. Come to our house if you want to freshen up, wash you hands and face and have a glass of cool, clean water.

And . . . more bloused

hanging corners blouse 1What can I say? It is summer and I am going through some lightly depressive episodes. Somehow sewing helps. What happened to my wardrobe simplicity quest you ask? It is just not a focus at the moment. Besides, my sewing is less about the desire to own these things as it is about the whole process of imagining and making them. Also, the first one is  from a thrifted fabric (bought for $1 enough fabric to make four of these blouses) and the third one is from a linen curtain that I had replaced.

I look at these blouses and I find it bewildering that they used to be large pieces of flat, unravelling fabric. I am always in awe of the act of making things, of creating, so specific to our species. The search for beauty and the dedication to bring it together from scraps, pieces of no significance of their own.

Immediate and concrete, sewing lets my mind wonder and my hands work, which seems to be something that I am in very much need of. Interestingly enough, I am reading right now “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and here is what she has to say on this:

P.S. In that first image, the painting ( girl in a bottle) is done by my dear friend Rachel Fenton, of Snow Like Thought. I admired an image of it on her blog and she sent it to me! Isn’t it beautiful?

A BIT OF SUMMER (IN THE GARDEN)

We have a little garden growing. Heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, eggplants and herbs. Stubborn plants. We brought them home and kept them on the deck for about two weeks before we got a chance to work on the garden and no, they didn’t die.

They kept their heads up until they went into the ground. Some in a planter, some right in the middle of the lawn. Circled every day by little rabbits and a large woodchuck (or more), they look pretty and dreamy from the kitchen window.

With this and the bountiful CSA share we seem to be having this year I think we will be quite well set for vegetables for the summer. In the meantime we might just turn green from all the leaves that come in each and every dish that is made in our kitchen. Won’t that be very Milarepa-esque? Yeah, we’ll risk it. It’s a beautiful summer. It would be only right to also experience it from the inside.

Sewing peasant blouses

peasant blouse 1Sewing has made quite a come back in my life lately. I have been sewing like crazy for me, the ballerina-rock star and other little friends. My creativity needs get complete satisfaction from sewing.

I was thinking of childhood games and how they tell of what we have a gift for. As a child in my grandparents village, I remember, I had a little table and a chair that my grandfather had built for me. He would put them out, in the shade of the grape vines. Over there I would work each day on my perfumery of bottles filled with water and flower petals from my grandmother’s summer garden and on making clothes for my little Barbie-style doll. I used to gather all the scraps of fabric I could find to make that doll pants and dresses. It is a memory I had long forgotten–the skinny little doll with a bad haircut, which I had given her on an uninspired day, and all her handmade clothes.

peasant blouse 2The perfumery passion didn’t turn out into anything later (except that yeah, the love for little bottles and the fragrances within always stayed with me) and I never really picked up sewing again until a few years ago. Now it looks like it’s again becoming a passion. A source of happiness. Why buy a new blouse in the store, as beautiful and cheap as it might be, when the rush just goes away in a short while and the blouse turns quickly back into only a thing, at the back of the closet? I can make that into weeks of planning for the right fabric, making trips to the fabric store, finding the perfect pattern, and cutting, sewing, taking it apart again, cutting, sewing on stolen short moments, for days and days. Letting my mind float and dream many dreams. Until it is finally done. The perfect blouse, uniquely mine, reminding me every time I wear it of the beautiful, peaceful hours of work and excitement that went into it.

And now, after seeing my little sewn things, you can go and take at look at the most amazing clothes that I (maybe you too) have seen in a long time: Handmade Annyschoo on Etsy. I just discovered this shop yesterday and I have been fascinated. I would happily fill my closet with her stuff and not wear anything else ever. In comparison, my sewing creations seem so insignificant (and how much this reminds me of how I feel about my writing!). I wish I could make clothes like that, but, oh, well, I guess I have to stay happy with my simple peasant blouses. They are so cute and comfortable, you know? They bring whispers of childhood and freedom, of a small Romanian village on the banks of Siret river. And they are my creation. That should be enough. For now.

LIVING THE SIMPLE LIFE BY ELAINE ST. JAMES

71WGJDXQ8NL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.gifThese days I find myself completely absorbed by the multiple aspects of simple living, an idea I just stumbled upon short time ago on, where else, Mothering.com (this website is populated by amazing, unbelievable people who live their lives in the most conscious way). Now I am a devout. Of simple living, that is. I am going to start composting, making my daughter clothes from old T-shirts, uncluttering our living space to a minimum amount of things, and I am even willing to commit to The Compact. All the way. It feels empowering, it feels like the spring of a new life. It connects me to an energy pool that keeps me well spirited, content and suddenly, out of nowhere, happy about myself, liking myself, feeling pride and accomplishment, in a long-forgotten way.

As a result, I picked up from the library two books on simple living. One of them is Living the Simple Life by Elaine St. James. First I have to mention that from the beginning, the background of the author didn’t really give me any confidence in her authority on the matter. She is a real-estate person who was doing well in this field (wrote books on real-estate also) and suddenly felt that her life was too crazy and started simplifying, which also gave her another career idea – writing about simplifying. She doesn’t have her own children, living comfortably only with her husband. I am afraid that my perception is that she is not authentic and that made the reading of the book difficult and unpleasant for me. Also, she is not a good writer. She doesn’t put any sparkle, anything special in the way she throws her words on paper and that is a big minus for me too.

The truth is that I didn’t find anything much of value in the book. It’s just one of those simplified to horror, in steps, american-style books, which aren’t meant to be literature as much as manuals. I hate those books. Who ever buys that For Dummies series? Who? Who likes to be called a dummy and pays money to the people who do it? I honestly don’t understand.

What will stay with me is their family dinners, all planned for a week and repeated until completely worn-out, and how they eat for Sunday dinner popcorn, apples and cheese.