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This all started with chickens.
Somewhere in the course of my online chicken research, I stumbled accross (Hallelujiah!) Homegrown Evolution, an urban homesteading blog. It was the first I’d ever seen, the first blog of any kind in fact.
Yes, I am something of a ludite. Before this latest computer addiction phase, I used to get up in the morning and read books, or scheme my next project, on paper, or stare out the window at trees and stuff. Now I get up, every morning I can (ie: if I wake before the babe) and sit here mind-sharing with this glowing box. I can hardly help it. It kind of pisses me off. But I kind of like it.
I too have become someone who sequesters themselves at home and gloms to a computer to feel some kind of virtual kinship, to feel that I am not alone in doing what I do, in being who I am.
It’s hard to believe a mere 3 months ago, I wrote (with a pen!) in my journal (on paper!) a pleading call to the Universe, “Where are all the punk homesteaders? Where are the back-to-the-landers of my generation? Not the squeaky clean yuppie foodies on a ‘Local’ fad, but the nitty gritty, down to the dirt, do-it-yourselfers thumbing their nose at American Mall culture?”
I guess it really all started two years ago when I read The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: A Guide to America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Katz, my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I’ve been living in the backwaters of Alaska for all my adult life, doing this thing I do, thinking this way I think, surrounded by towns full of people who aren’t and don’t. Until I read that beloved book, it never really occured to me that there might be a lot of other weirdos out there, doing and thinking like me, a Movement.
Once that idea was sparked, there started some small change within myself, some kind of opening and looking out. It’s not that I’m completely alone here, I have gathered to my breast a tiny nucleous of people– in Cordova, and far flung in the four directions. But the idea that there exists somewhere a culture of us, that was what truly excited me.
A friend said recently, ‘There’s two kinds of people in the world, the shiny people and the hairy people.’ (Some of you will take issue with that, my husband did) I have always felt that there are two kinds of people in this world as well, those who won’t care that your cloth menstrual pad is soaking in a kitchen pot in the bathroom, and those who will.
My point is, Sandor started me on the lookout. For more. So when I found Homegrown Evolution, I didn’t stop there. I dove in. I discovered my own online community. And it seemed, if I want ya’ll to serve up, I’d better put in my own 2 cents. And here I am. Here’s my 2 cents.
Now serve up.
I don’t want to be a Bah-Humbug. At heart, I love Christmas. I grew up in hippie family, where Christmas was about sparkly lights, magic, and doing special secret things for people you loved. We cut a real tree (spruce make very Charlie Brown-ish Christmas trees) and decorated it with handmade and old, cherished decorations. In our stockings we got mostly nuts and chocolate, one or two small presents, and a mandarin orange in the toe. Under the tree we had gifts, yeah, and when I was a kid- materialistic like all kids- I counted. Mostly we got stuff from the Salvation Army, or homemade. When my parents had the money, we’d get one nice, new thing.
That’s all it took. I know my mom especially always wished she had more money to buy us more stuff, but I sure don’t remember feeling disappointed or deprived come Christmas morning. When you grow up that way, it just seems normal. I had no idea it was a ‘modest Christmas’ till much later. In fact, I never understood my dad’s borderline Bah-Humbug-ism until I grew up and moved out, and saw how most of America celebrates Christmas. Yup, it’s enough to make ya say, “Harrumph!” and stock off to some dark closet.
It’s easier the years we stay in Cordova. There’s a Christmas hubbub here, but it’s really not so bad. There’s only about two stores where you can even go ‘shopping.’ But when we spend it down south with G’s parents, I feel my shoulders hunch, and my eyes narrow. We go real shopping there. And of course, so does everyone else and their whole fam damily. It’s a madhouse. Of people trying to spend their money on a bunch of crap that some poor kids in Bangladesh worked 13 hours a day in unsafe conditions to make. Nobody even wants most of the gifts they get! It doesn’t make any sense! And that’s how we celebrate?!
Okay, rant over. I’d like to get to my point.
Don’t buy in.
I mean, I’m no purist. I understand family and social pressures, and I’m not promoting a Buy Nothing Christmas (though I kind of wish I were). What I mean is, don’t buy into the whole production of it, pare down. In this world, most people don’t need more stuff. Apart from the upkeep of some sort of social expectation, most people just want to make some connection with you, and spending money is how they do it. But you can re-write the rules. Save your money for a few quality gifts. Make things for whoever you think would appreciate it.
Which brings me to my real point. Here are some ideas for nice homemade gifts that people might actually want, and use:
Food. Everybody wants to eat. Homemade food is usually greatly appreciated. But I don’t mean the same cookies and cakes everybody already has stacks of from Aunt Minnie. I mean some good wholesome, quick food for the busy holidays. Home canned soup is a great gift for someone who won’t be too scared to eat it (be careful who you give home canned food to, I’ve found untouched years old gift jars of salmon and jam in relatives cupboards that made me want to cry, or take it back), every DIYer loves an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal that someone else made. Home canned salmon, jam, pickles, or anything else are also great gifts.
Homemade bread is another nice food gift. Not sweet bread, just bread bread. Most people love homemade bread, and almost never eat it. It’s a good ‘bang fer the buck’ way to score points. I’m thinking this year of sending bread “kits” to people I think would actually use them. So they can eat their bread hot from the oven. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Of course, if you have chickens, homegrown eggs are like gold to anyone who knows. And if you’re doing your own milking, how about a soft, herbed cheese to spread on that bread?
Rooting cuttings of good indoor herbs in September or October would give you some nice little potted herb gifts in December. Now’s not too late to do it, they’ll just be very little still. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, any woody, shrubby plant will work. You could also start from seed if you live somewhere with more winter light, where a plant might actually consider growing in December. Or give a pot filled with potting soil, a packet or two of seeds (quick growing salad greens are best, maybe a mesclun mix), and instructions for a beginning gardener to try their hand with come April, though this does threaten to be one of those gifts that sits in a corner of the garage never used.
Then there’s crafts. Knitting hats, etc is great if you know of a real need. I find buying yarn kind of expensive when you can get a fine hat at the Sally for 50 cents. Scrap, patchwork pillows can be quite nice if you sew. I also made something for my sister once, to hang in her bathroom window that was a patchwork of glowy kind of scraps (all Sally finds), like a fabric “stained glass window.” Really cool curtain alternative.
If you’re looking for a baby/mama gift, check out the Punk Baby Sweaters article. Show me a place that’s chilly in winter and I’ll show you some hippie mamas with a yearning for baby woolies. You can hardly buy wool baby clothes if you want to. If you sew, this is a great gift.
Unfortunately, all these things are great gifts for Lovers of DIY, but they’re the easiest folks on your list. What about the squares? What do you give Aunt Minnie to say thanks for the stack of stale cookies?
Well, for one thing, let me say that far more people appreciate the homesteady type of lifestyle than you’d think. Start flaunting it and you will find the most unlikely folks crawling out of the woodwork/closet. These types may not eat your jar of salmon (though they may truly intend to, and just never get around to it), but will still enjoy living a little vicariously through you. I’ve found that one thing almost everybody appreciates is pictures. A peek into your life. (When your life is interesting, that is) I often make photo books at Christmas. Not, ‘click your photos and click Order Book,’ but actual homemade photo books. Show an intimate portrait of your “quaint” homesteady life. The city mice can put it on their coffee table and flaunt you to dinner guests. This is going to work better and better now that the whole Local Food fad is up and running. Hell, maybe you’ll spark some kind of tweak in somebody, somewhere. Maybe it will be just the nudge they needed, and they’ll start canning tomatoes from the farmer’s market.
Then there’s the real stalwarts. The people that just need a purchased gift. The people that have no interest whatsoever in homemade, that just need to know money was spent on them. Unless you’re prepared to make Christmas your political battleground, go ahead and buy them something. I’m not much of a hardcore. I want to be a part of my people, even if we are a fucked up bunch. I don’t want to give up everything I believe in to do it, but I am willing to compromise.
So now, you, gentle reader, what sort of loverly homemade gifts have you given, or received, over the years? Let’s get our juices flowing folks! The best way to keep at something is to have backup!
My dad is coming for Thanksgiving this year. It’s his favorite holiday, the only holiday he really loves in fact. This will be my first time hosting him for it. It’s a big deal. A sign of true grown-up-ness. And kind of intimidating. Though I know he’s going to be in absolute heaven, no matter what. His first grandkid at his side, everything will be aglow.
Ever since I’ve had my own Thanksgiving, it has been a tenuous balance of subsistence food and traditional (ie: East coast pilgrim subsistence food). The whole idea of the holiday, it seemed to me at first, is a celebration of the harvest- both domestic and wild, and I can really get into that. My partner and I, for that first solo Thanksgiving nixed everything not grown by us, or harvested from the area. We had fish, bear, potatoes and blueberry pie. It was a great dinner, but, pretty much like all our other dinners. It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving.
When I started duck hunting, and I could put a duck or two on the table (stuffed!) it was a big jump up. Having a bird seemed really central. But I’ve never been a good duck hunter, and finally two years ago I broke down and bought a turkey. Organic of course, but didn’t say anything about free range. It wasn’t anything special, wasn’t from any local farm (no turkey farms ’round these parts), it was out of the freezer at Fred Meyer’s. But boy did it ever feel like Thanksgiving.
So now, we do a combo plate. I get as small a turkey as I can get away with, and we have moose or deer or bear roasts too.
I put wild mushrooms in the stuffing, and leeks from the garden. We have mashed potatoes and yams from the dumpster if we can find ‘em, and my infamous homegrown cabbage salad. Of course, everyone brings a jar of handpicked cranberry sauce. I make a gravlox appetizer, and salmonberry punch. For dessert pumpkin pie, and blueberry, both with whipped cream.
And we invite anyone and everyone. Last year, there was 20 something people here, this year it will be more like 15. That big uproar seems as important to me now as the food. Best is if there’s the chaos of a few kids underfoot.
Oh yeah, my dad’s gonna have a blast.