Your Eco-Friendly Friendships

Recently, I’ve been revisiting Radical Homemakers almost ten years after it rocked my world back in grad school. Parts are brilliant and parts a bit flaky, just like I remembered, but the overall effect is to fire me up. And I came across a cornerstone of X’s vision for domesticity: Save the planet, make a friend!

“Solid and satisfying relationships are beyond a doubt the primary step in building a sustainable home.”

This was good news to me. I don’t recycle anymore and I have a list as long as my arm of domestic skills I should probably cultivate, but I do invest in friendships.

When I think about the claim, I sort of see it. There aren’t all that many days anymore when I don’t feed someone outside my immediate family or get fed in return. I don’t buy many children’s clothes. We do very few formal cultural events –good and wholesome though they are–because much of our time is spent in pleasure and duty to our network of friends: just passing time and sharing meals at one home or another. All of this reduces consumption and waste.

We also are able to sidestep some childcare costs by swapping care for appointments and other one-offs. When we do have to pay for services (childcare, lawn care, tailoring, etc.) we can also often keep it within the church or homeschooling community. We are keeping our money hyper-local and practicing frugality while we’re at it.

J, vanquished by the children of our community of friends

Here is a fairly typical day:

  • At preschool drop off, I pass one bag of Pip’s hand-me-downs to a friend who passes me two bags of her daughter’s for Scout. (Everyone needs a friend with children the same ages as her own but opposite genders.)
  • I go through an IKEA bag of stuff from another friend who’s in the process of moving. I set aside the things I can’t use to find homes for.
  • At naptime a friend’s high school daughter brings by the duvet she finished making as a commission for me.
  • In the afternoon, I work out a complicated childcare scenario where a friend piggybacks on my mother’s helper, who subcontracts with her little brother. It ends up costing us $10 each for two hours of childcare, during which time I listen to an audiobook uninterrupted and wrap birthday presents. On the phone, I also walk a friend through setting up an evite for an All Souls prayer potluck.
  • A young friend’s husband is finishing up work on our back deck. She drops him off, grabs an apricot and leaves some vases I’ve left her
  • Dinner is pasta and homemade meatballs from our yearly cow. I double the recipe and drop half off at the home of the farmer friend who raised the cow, who’s having a difficult recovery from surgery.
  • When I get home J is having a beer on the porch with the wife of our deck repairman and the father of the extra kid our mother’s helpers watched.
  • After kid bedtime, I eat a brownie baked by one friend and enjoy a cup of tea from the hostess, when I meet to plan our Blessed Is She Advent retreat.
Pretty potatoes from our farm share, run by a parishioner, some of which were delivered to a friend of a friend recovering from a concussion

These friendships are different, more demanding and deeper, than those friendships when you get together when your life is under control for a night that feature fancy food, sparkling conversation and clean countertops. Sometimes we have those things and they are good things to be sure. But this life of ours paradoxically requires more mess and more order. When your child outgrows her wardrobe, you can’t just bag it up for Goodwill or simply toss it; instead, you divvy and deliver it between friends, and you accept hand-me-downs in advance that you’ll have to store. You invite people into the nooks and crannies of a busy family life and hope they don’t walk away when you run late because of a diaper blowout or you offer them half of the non-gourmet thing you froze weeks ago. It’s harder and more vulnerable than the independent suburban way I think a lot of people live, but its porosity and clamor and warmth are a comfort in times of trouble (and morning sickness) and a fortress against the materialism of the world in which our children can flourish.

PS–Would it be helpful for anyone if I did a detailed post on my system for storing hand-me-downs?

Am I a Bad Friend to Fix Unhealthy Stuff?

My naan is always a little too small and tall and this does not stop me from eating it hot from the oven.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a baker at heart, not a cook. My favorite things in the kitchen are caught up in the baking side of things: the feel of warm naan dough in my hands, Pippin and Scout’s help rolling molasses spice cookies in Demerara sugar.

But increasingly people I love can’t eat the things I love to make, and I find myself feeling guilty serving them even to people in the clear. Do we ever really need brownies?

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Friends Rush In

“Let me know how I can help!” We all say it, and it’s meant well, but not usually very helpful. So let’s real talk — things people have done for us in this and other pregnancies:

  • Brought fresh soap in case the smell bothered me
  • Brought snacks
  • Brought dinner
  • Watched my kids for appointments
  • Sent their big kids to be mother’s helper so I could lie down
  • Sent their husbands who work only part-time to be mother’s helper so I could lie down (my husband insists this isn’t be a mother’s helper but a “dad-in-training”)
  • Taken my kid to preschool or picked him up
  • Sent flowers
  • Left cookies
  • Mailed encouraging notes and prayer cards
  • Walked my dog when it was snowy and John was out of town and we didn’t have a fence
  • Helped me do laundry and straighten up

(My friends and acquaintances, let’s be clear, are awesome, and if I name this child after them, it’ll be about twenty names long.)

A friend was recently saying she felt like she was failing at modeling generosity for her kids because she wasn’t making a lot of time for soup kitchens and other volunteerism. And while those things are definitely important (and an area in which I regularly fail), this same friend has been helping me in big and small ways, from showing up to dinner to helping me lug the toddler around preschool events. No doubt her kids see these acts of friendship and generosity, too. 

A lot of this, of course, applies to more than crippling morning sickness or even newborn babies: to grief and all kinds of hardship. For more really concrete advice, check out Sheryl Sandberg talking about what helped her in the wake of her husband’s sudden death. What have people done for you in tough times that’s helped most?

Galentines: Literary Friendships

Galentines Day, invented by Parks & Recreation‘s Leslie Knope, is all about ladies celebrating ladies (with waffles, of course). We live in a world with bromances and guy love, but we can always use a little more gratitude for our female friendships, can’t we?

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First on our list from literature is a no brainer: Anne and Diana, of course. Bosom friends! Kindred spirits! Isn’t the Anne series really just an extended exploration of friendship? And so few male characters who aren’t pure cardboard. Let us always remember along with Anne, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” (And it’s worth celebrating all the other friendships in the series. My favorite is Philippa Gordon.)

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Next, I nominate the lesser-known Julie and Maddie in Code Name Verity. The story opens improbably enough, with a Scottish spy, captured in occupied France, writing her confession to the Gestapo, but quickly unfolds into the story of her friendship with Maddie, an English pilot. There are too many good passages to choose from: “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend” or the long and lovely meditation:

 I don’t believe for a minute–that we wouldn’t have become friends somehow–that an unexplored bomb wouldn’t have gone off and blown us both into the same crater, or that God himself wouldn’t have come along and knocked our heads together in a flash of green sunlight.

Uprooted. I know we just talked about this one. Friendship isn’t quite as central here, but its nuances make it memorable. Agnieszka and Kasia have always known that Kasia will be chosen by the mysterious and surly local wizard as a servant. Their friendship endures in spite of this inevitable truth, but when Agnieszka is chosen instead, things get complicated. Magic forces them to confront the darkness in their close and sustaining friendship, and they emerge stronger than ever:

My vision cleared, and looking into her face I saw the shame falling away. She looked at me with fierce love, with courage.

Can we count sisters? Christina Rossetti argues we can in “Goblin Market“:

For there is no friend like a sister

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray,

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.

Well, I’m convinced. So let’s add:

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The Marches in Little Women. Isn’t this Australian cover above just the sweetest?

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The Penderwicks. Love the Penderwick Family Honor, and how these girls seem to manage to be all be friends (well, most of the time), despite their age and personality differences.

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Elizabeth and Jane, Elinor and Marianne. Of course. What would Jane be without Elizabeth’s calls to courage, or Lizzy without Jane’s soft heart urging kindness? How lonesome Elinor’s path of dreary prudence would be without Marianne, and how destructive Marianne’s unrestrained passions without Elinor!

Who’s on your list of literary BFFs? Can you think of any contemporary books with central female friendships written for adults?