Saturday, March 04, 2006

March is Re-decorating Month

Last weekend I went to a Sustainable Farming Conference at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center. The people I met there were inspiring and the things I heard fed my ongoing interest in growing food, eating local foods and learning about the way food is produced and marketed. There was also an emphasis on the way our Christian faith relates to consumption. Inspirational sessions focused on the ways in which God’s people in biblical times were often required to live at odds with the empire of their times.

I came home with practical ideas to share with my neighbors and friends and with some inspiration that will keep me learning and growing I also came home to watch the hawk that seems to be nesting in the woods beyond my house. I see them flying around and perching on branches at the edge of the woods or soaring out over the field. The hawk has special significance for me. I know they’re often thought of as birds of prey and I do shudder to think they might be feeding off my pretty bird feeder birds. But I also find them elegant and inspiring—the way they can perch high up and survey the surrounding countryside and then zero in on something as tiny as a mouse or a chipmunk.

At times, that’s how I like to think of myself as both a writer and a consumer. I like taking the long view and spending time contemplating the “big picture”. But eventually I focus in on something small and practical—of great importance to me at a moment in time, but seemingly insignificant to someone else.

For instance, I can spend a lot of time thinking about something as mundane and unimportant, in the grand scheme of things, as curtains or a bed cover. As if my life depended on it--these things have always had great significance for me. At times I feel it's silly when I consider the many concerns of the world and how little a curtain matters in comparison. But there is something inside of me that wants to frame the view of my world in an artful way. I recall living in our first apartment and purchasing a beautiful chintz drapery fabric. I sewed a pair of detailed pinch-pleated, lined draperies that fit the window of our bedroom perfectly. When, after about eight months, we decided to move to a house that had more room, a nice lawn and lower rent, I actually cried about the fact my drapes wouldn’t be of use in the new place. How silly was that?

My mother expressed her artistic bent by creating lovely spaces for the family to live in. Growing up, we pored over the Robinson’s Wallpaper books that came regularly in the mail as if our life depended on it. She re-wallpapered our eight-room farmhouse time and time again, using these inexpensive papers. It was necessary because of coal furnace soot. This was actual “paper”--not vinyl coated wall covering.

I still take a lot of satisfaction in finding ways to rearrange things I have or working with the treasures I find in thrift stores, bargain stores or the occasional castoff. I have this idea that it is possible to have both beauty and economy in a home’s furnishings. I’ve learned some basics—how to paint, wallpaper and care for and restore things. The stack of magazines full of pictures of flea market decorating and shabby chic piles up in a corner. I study the pictures for ideas—colors, arrangements, the creation of beauty in what was once neglected buildings and cast-off furnishings. Many times, simple abundance can be had for a bit of elbow grease and attention to detail.

As I turned the calendar page to March 1 this week, I thought of my mother. Her birthday would have been March 17. When I used to look for a gift for her, I'd often buy something small for her house—a candle, a plant, a basket, a piece of pottery. Many times she returned the favor. This year I won’t be able to give her a gift—a tangible one. But I will recognize and remember her homemaking artistry. I’ve decided to declare March “Redecorating Month” in her honor--and to honor my own urge to create interest and beauty at home. So far I’ve painted a few odds and ends with a crackle painting technique and I’ve stripped dark wallpaper from the half bath and painted it yellow. I’ve bought some silk curtains at an off-price store and updated the bedroom with some very colorful new linens. I have more ideas and plans. What can I say? I’m “homemaker-y!”


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