Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Greener Black Friday

As much as I don't want to, I have the desires of a consumer. I love shoes, hats, gloves and outfits. I'm a sucker for cool gadgets that do my housework for me. When I think about helping the environment, my mind spontaneously jumps to solutions that involve new stuff - solar panels, hybrid cars, low watt light bulbs. But while these things have their place, I believe that consuming got us into the environmental catastrophe we live with. I deeply distrust environmental solutions that involve buying our way out.

The day after Thanksgiving was a good day to start a road to buying less.  Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, feels like a social event. We go out shopping as a community, to be around other people - it's bright, loud, fun and distracting.

I wanted to recreate that feeling of bustling activity, but in a more intentional way, focusing on taking care of what we already have instead of buying more things. The word stewardship seems to fit what I was looking for; a relationship with the world in which we strive to preserve the good things entrusted to us, instead of burning through them as fast as we can.

So this year, we celebrated Green Friday. I invited friends over for a mending and fixing party.

I had no idea how this would turn out. It had the potential to be either a hoot, or a serious failure.

Here I am, issuing an invitation to come sew on buttons, winterize rakes and shovels, sharpen knives, and generally do things we all put off because they are so unmotivating.

And to top it off, the invitation read "potluck - bring leftovers"

It took chutzpah to ask for this, but it paid off.

My younger brother selected the job of seasoning cast iron.

He took our crusty, rusty pans and scoured them with steel wool and green scrubbies.

Then he dried them well, heated them on a hot burner, and oiled them heavily.

There was a little smoke, and the smell of burning oil and hot metal.

And then the pan became glossy, black and clean.

A cast iron pan is like a phoenix, renewing itself by plunging into the fire.

 I knew this once, and seeing my brother clean this pan reminded me.

Thanksgiving week means rain in Seattle, and this year was no exception. I don't know what I was thinking, including garden tool restoration on the chore list.

This involves sanding the entire tool, wood and metal, wiping it clean with a dry rag, which soon becomes filthy with rust, and then covering the whole tool with several coats of linseed oil.

There is abundant red dust, and the oil smell is strongly fishy, not to by tried indoors. One spill and the house is marked.

Our amazing neighbors Corey and JJ asked to learn with our tools. They settled onto a bench out in the barn, and cleaned.

I felt  inhospitable for placing them out in the hay with the animals, and having them clean my stuff.  But they cleaned everything, then went home to start on their own tools. Eventually they were joined by other hardy souls lured out by the ever adorable ducks.

Madeline brought a troublesome knitting pattern she had been putting off trying.

Her goal was to use up all the odd bits of yarn, in one big, motley garment.
Cilla graded papers. This is her first year teaching ninth grade English. She is a scholar and a wise woman. But teaching kids who don't know or want to know the subject is really stretching her as a person.
Alas, there are no pictures of Nik making chain mail. This was a  surprisingly delicate job. He hooked together thousands of tiny metal links to form a fluid, comfortable looking metal mesh. It looked more like jewelry making than armor production. Nik started his project with ten thousand metal loops, and said he would need more. He should be busy for a while with this.

Meanwhile several kids sorted Pokemon cards. It may not seem like drudgery, but they had been putting this off, letting their cards get disorganized, and then wanting to buy more. Organizing helps them realize how many toys they already have, and appreciate them more. Possibly some trades were also negotiated.

But most people came to sharpen knives.
We already knew that many people put off knife sharpening. They either fear getting it wrong,  or  view it as something their dad did, but that contemporary humans are no longer able to - a lost art. 

This is very sad. A sharp knife is as much of a pleasure and as useful of a tool now as it ever has been. Sharpening a knife is a great place to start relearning those supposedly lost skills.

We use two stones - one coarse, one fine, and a leather strap. Party goers learned to grind the blade at an angle against the stones, rubbing away the blunt edge and creating a beveled surface so thin and sharp that a hair dropped on the blade is cut in half. 

It's always better to use a sharp knife.  It will put a smile on your face!

 Maya and Gary brought a mixer that needed new grease. This intimidated me. If they came to the party with a working mixer and left with a broken one, no positive event could turn the party around for me.

But it didn't intimidate Maya, Gary and David.

They had the lid off, the gears out, and new grease in place while I was finding a cinnamon stick to put in the cider.

 Some people buy fancy appliances and let them sit in the kitchen unused. Maya uses this mixer daily. She has used virtually every attachment. She doesn't think of it as a disposable item, and she didn't want it to be a mystery. She wanted real ownership - real understanding.

 We wanted that for our oven, too, but it didn't happen, at least not yet.

One burner is having ignitor problems. We thought - how cool would it be if we could fix it during a fixing party.

We didn't quite get it working again, but we will keep trying.

Overall, Green Friday was an outstanding success. People had fun while fixing things, and gaining a new appreciation and gratitude for the items they already have.

We will almost certainly do Green Friday again next year. I challenge others to try it too; I think you will enjoy it. It's a great way to share and teach skills, be with friends, and become better stewards.

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