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Friday, November 9, 2012

In Which I Break Up With Martha Stewart

"Every child's holiday will be made infinitely more magical if your holiday décor features a homemade gingerbread replica of your home, and don't they deserve a magical Christmas, you lazy slacker?"

That was printed in the lifestyle magazine that showed up in my mailbox yesterday. Well, it basically said that. Pretty much. A magazine I felt guilty sitting down to read because there was probably some linen I should be ironing or yogurt I should be culturing or fresh evergreen wreath I should be fashioning out of clippings from the indoor ferns I didn't kill because of course I'm an excellent horticulturist and I even know what a horticulturist is. (You believe me, right?) But since this magazine held wisdom on perfecting my technique of all of the activities above and the holiday spirit was upon me, I settled into the guilt and flipped away at the glossy pages.  

You know the magazine – it's the one that suggests stuffing your Thanksgiving turkey with figs and pancetta and roasted artichoke hearts with butternut squash (not slathering a half-frozen bird with Jell-o powder and orange juice like I do) while you wait for the sautéed escarole on the stove. I'm not sure what you're waiting for the escarole to do exactly because I don't even know what escarole is and I'm too busy trying to figure out where to find fennel and endive for the fennel-endive-pomegranate seed salad every decent human being can whip up for a light lunch when having surprise company.

You know the magazine. Martha Stewart Living.  

Because of Martha, I know how to make handmade marshmallows in Christmas-y shapes and create my own hand-beaded bag, which I should be making unique for each outfit or at least for every day of the week. Page 3 tells me I need a $10,000 oven to ensure my cream puffs are baked with the most even heat distribution possible, which must be true even though I've never baked cream puffs in my life, but I still feel good about myself for a split second because at least I know what a cream puff is, which is more than I can say for the endive. I'm pretty sure the oven in the Dollhouse retails new for about twelve bucks.

With every page, I wonder things I hadn't even thought of until this very minute. Things like whether my hair is thick enough or my kitchen mixer can make pasta. I start realizing things I need that I never needed before. A hybrid. A wine cellar. A sheep whose wool I can make into fashionable winter clothing for my family. I see things I probably should make because I'm sure every other person in the universe is making them and the instructions are right here! In my hand! Page 26 alone gives me all I need to know about making both a catmint pillow bed and bracelets/tassels made with the hair cultivated from five Friesian horses…and I'm not even making that up.

Page 69, spice-infused milk and sugar-dusted macaroon trees. Page 71, scented tree ornaments. Page 37, a $520 makeup bag. Page 45, perfectly complected laughing children in matching outfits. Page 53, hand-punched paper doilies. Page 55, patterned men's socks, folded, lined up in a drawer and organized by shade. Page 61, handmade bell jar terrariums with miniature skiers and tiny penguins on snowy glitter mountains. Page 62, toast in the shape of the USA. Page 82, chamomile-yogurt panna cotta. Page 112, a hand-carved menorah. Page 124, a miniature winter forest in a $172 bucket. Page 145, a "simple desert" – lemon mascarpone crepe cake made with 62,789 layers of crepes and lemon curd made with eggs from your own personal chicken who is also a designer poultry model.

Plus 186 other pages I didn't mention.

None of this resembles my life. Martha's calendar (which she graciously shares with us on page 2) features twice-weekly appointments with her personal trainer and other ridiculously unrealistic pursuits like "harvest citrus from greenhouse," and "write thank-you notes."

But somewhere during my mental vacation to Bedford Farm, I become overwhelmed and tired. Those hand-beaded purses are kind of ugly. Escarole sounds a lot like cooked snails. I have zero desire to dust or even possess a collection of tiny skiers in glittery jars.

This all is the brain-child of a woman who might as well live on another planet, a woman with a team—nay, an enterprise, dedicated to this kind of fluffery. I don't have a maid or a stylist, and my entourage is populated with small people who still pee themselves. She wears tailored pantsuits; I pick kid boogers off the knees of my mom jeans. She hand-glitters her letterpress holiday cards; I haven't sent a Christmas card since 1998. She loves propagating rare plants from cuttings (her words); I kill silk flowers. She has an entire day marked off her calendar for Frederic Fekkai's birthday; I get my hair cut once a year...at Walmart.

Like so many others, this magazine is designed to make me want this life, to be convinced that I need this life, and even more, that I should spend time and energy and loads of money in the pursuit of it. But the whole thing really makes me want to climb back into bed, on my drug-store sheet set in my thrift-store pajamas, and give up the glittery ghost. I don't want to live at Bedford Farm and I don't want to be Martha. I don't want chickens with headshots or a beagle in Tartan pajamas. I don't want to teach Snoop Dog how to cook or practice perfecting the recipe for chocolate kugelhopf (or give myself a headache trying to pronounce it). I don't want to tolerate the message that I am not enough and don't do enough, and I sure as hell don't want to pay for the privilege.

So here it is. So long, Martha. Your pantsuits are lovely. Your home is impeccable (both the gingerbread and brick-and-mortar versions). Your holiday table is splendid. Your cider-braised slab bacon looks delicious. But we have to break up.

Because here's the thing. My bacon is just fine like it is. I would rather strangle myself with tinsel than create a to-scale gingerbread replica of my home. Sheep stink and so do chickens. You should consider changing the name to Martha Stewart Can't Even Live Like This magazine, because at least it would be truthful.

Consider my subscription cancelled, my ticket for the guilt-trip torn to bits.

How's that for Living

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thank You for the Dollhouse

He is bringing me to surrender.

And while I spout words and thoughts about freeing my heart to Jesus on a regular basis, surrender is a difficult place for me. Sure, I'll surrender my worship, surrender my words. I'll surrender time for Scripture reading and some crumpled bills for the offering plate.

But what about stuff? Comfort? The redefining of need?

Back in January (or was it February?), I pegged this the "year of home."


It has come/is coming to mean something other than what I thought it would, as these things usually do. Adoption. Moving. Again. Paring down. Letting go.

We get keys to our new place in 16 days, a townhouse on the university campus with faded pink paint and a blue door like the one on my daughter's plastic dollhouse. There is a clipboard on the front door for family game night flyers and street sweeper notices, clothing exchange announcements and resident-only softball league signups. Our next-door neighbor is crafty, if the Halloween swarm of paper bats and a cardstock moon fastened across her front door and window is any indication, so I wish like a 6-year-old that she will be my friend. Maybe we will ride bikes to school together.

The usual new house excitement and chaos is underway now and all the preparations loom ahead. Except that it's more of a stateroom than a house, really. Part apartment, part dormitory, part submarine berth, part communal abode. Our new back porch is wide open to the grassy common play space and I'm about to have all manner of neighborhood children up in here, up in here.

I wonder whether we'll be able to fit very much more than a couple of forks and some warm bodies into the dollhouse with us. The dimensions of the dining room are actually smaller than the dimensions of our dining table, without any chairs. I call about borrowing a saw to hack two feet off the ends off my brand new dining table, a handmade anniversary gift from my husband. I am nothing if not determined, and resourceful.

But the line between need and want is a dashed and dotted one, I think, and life with four forever children means a hard process of purging the comforts I've always treated as deal-breakers. The dollhouse has no dishwasher, for instance. No washer/dryer hookups either. I am accustomed to clean laundry piles that reach my chin, a daily soundtrack of washing machine chugging and spinning, and the truth is, I don't really want to spend half my hours in a coin-op Laundromat with my neighbors. I don't want to end up with someone else's underwear by mistake and have to locate the rightful owner. I don't want to be a goldfish in a glass bowl again, inviting people in when my floors have crumbs and my sink is full because I have no dishwasher, and my kid is covered in purple marker. I don't want to revisit all the boundary-crossing that happens when you live in community, blurring those lines between yours, mine, and ours. 

But it's time I did.

It makes me worried, the thought of giving up so much of my stuff. But I'm grateful for the process, grateful for the paring away of internal, emotional clutter that comes alongside getting rid of the things I think I need simply because I like them. Grateful we'll be part of a culture again and that letting go of things often means making room for people.

So as I try to downsize, it's with that end in mind: blessing people, making room, living in community. Though I've taken a few sizeable car loads to Goodwill already, I'm aiming to be more intentional about finding needs to meet with our excess rather than merely discarding or selling it. There is something about giving it away that energizes and brightens so much more than simply giving it up. Furnishing the new home of a friend who had to leave everything behind, bundling up extra toys for the foster babies to bring along with them when they leave, adding resources to the church library… it is all His way of turning paring down into building up.

And the truth is, I can't wait for the dollhouse. To be stepping on the toes of my family all day, piling up together on the day bed we'll be using as a couch, rubbing elbows with my neighbors at Taco Night, tossing scraps in the complex compost pile to feed the community garden that will feed us too. I can't wait to wonder aloud about Jesus over a pint with the girl in my algebra class and meet my babies for lunch in a crowded student union. To learn. To grow. To live with less.

It's appropriate, I think, that we are moving in over the Thanksgiving holiday. The time for gratitude is here.