Third in a week-long series of profiles on moms I know in honor of Mother’s Day 2011.
Elizabeth Scarpino is my best friend in the whole world and she has been for, wow, about 25 years.
You all have to know the kind of friend I’m talking about here. More of a sister than a friend (my daughters call her Aunt Liz) and someone who so totally gets you and you so totally get them, at least as much as is possible when you no longer live close by. To that end modern technology helps, even that sometime source of craziness, Facebook.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Because Liz is such a sister to me I could go on for hours about her. And of course my love for her would include all her nutty ways (note I didn’t say neurotic, Liz, I said nutty) and a Valentine to her utter brilliance in apprehending our times. Her political and social analysis make her the Ralph Nader and Georg Simmel of today’s homemaking moms. A radical in an apron. As she says about our writings and Facebook posts, “We are so on the W-a-t-c-h List.”
My praise would include how bust-a-gut hilarious she is, and how beautiful, retaining her girlish figure into her mid-forties with little more effort than a high metabolism probably driven by a uncontainable passion for either lifting the world up for its many wonders (like gypsies and tramp art), or ripping it to shreds with her surgical incisiveness on all things socio-cultural.
Don’t let her great sense of fashion, usually accomplished through second-hand finds, fool you. Behind that charming glow is a sharp mind that frankly doesn’t take any bullshit. Her line on anything vaguely suspicious? “I ain’t buying it.” And that’s not because she has bad grammar.
Of course she had to be my one interviewee this week who couldn’t color in the box. She couldn’t just give me brief one-two sentence answers to my queries. She had to give the full spectrum. That’s why I love Liz. So instead of describing her any more, I’ll simply lay out her interview straight.
I go walkin’, after midnight
LC: You’re the ultimate homemaker—you garden, cook, make things, guide homework, plan interesting outings for your family, host parties from time to time…what’s your favorite aspect of family life?
LS: Without a doubt, that would be taking our daily constitutionals together with our sweet cattle dog. She has nothing to herd, so we provide the exercise capers. Often an errand is included, and occasionally a proper hike or picnic – or sometimes we just linger in a meadow watching the hawks and goldfinches and model airplanes.
I truly believe the family who walks together, talks together — and stays close. Humans are designed to walk great lengths and I feel it is conducive to individual reflection and observation, but also fellowship and interaction. It doesn’t require special equipment or a gym membership, and isn’t so self-involved or all-consuming, like running or team sports.
And we’re not just fair-weather walkers who only turn out on beautiful days: we slog through the snow and rain or heat, into the creeks and woods — rewarded for our efforts by an owl or beaver sighting, a special treat in an urban park! So our adventuring keeps us in tune with the seasons and nature, lets us chat and gossip, get info and ideas, stay aware of our changing world, see how others live, and develop an intimate understanding and appreciation of our immediate environment.
It’s our time to debrief and decompress, to joke and to fuss, or think and plan for tomorrow.
The seven million wonders of the world
LC: Secondly, you have a unique talent for finding real treasures in everything from yard sales to alley ways. What’s the secret ingredient to your eye? What are you thinking when you discover something in terms of how you might use it, fix it, or just keep it on hand? (Editors note: Liz literally “alley shops” and she has found innumerable treasures that would make your head spin. It’s a big part of the reason her house is so gorgeous.)
LS: Well, I guess the secret lies in my previous answer.
When you’re on foot (or on a bicycle), you stumble across things most people ignore in their busy-ness or could never see from the sealed confines of their vehicles. So, there’s definitely a serendipity element to finding “good garbage,” as we call it. But that having been said, you have to make yourself available to the discovery: open your mind to the practical or creative possibilities of what Once-lers only see as trash, and get over the bourgeois pride that prevents you from rescuing — or even touching — used things discarded by others.
All holiday stuff seems to have an expiration date the day after. It’s like, people: there will be another Christmas! Rolls of wrapping paper, still sealed and unused, a frequent sight throughout the year.
I don’t dig or dive, nor do I ever mess with anything questionable, but if in my journeys I happen upon something cool, it sorta beckons and calls to me to reckon with and appreciate it in a way. Maybe it all just knows I like old junk, and wants to extend it’s domestic tenure before going to the landfill. There’s something very thrilling about using the bountiful array of free, often old and unique, finds that weren’t purchased from Lowe’s like everybody else’s.
When you add the energy-saving act of “humblefacture,” where you truly re-purpose and modify, it’s empowering and addictive. You quickly get better at it, too. You start to see potential and beauty in every prosaic castoff, and you learn to recognize that feeling that something good is just around the corner, or at the bottom of that box at a yard sale.
But a word of caution: don’t fall into the hoarder category, collecting more projects than you can tackle in a lifetime! Then the gift becomes a curse! I think alley shopping/re-purposing (like guerrilla gardening) is one of the most plebeian and radical, legal and accessible forms of creative expression in our disposable society. And it’s available to everyone!
Don’t fence me in
LC: Being a mom is a joy…and it’s a role. Behind it all you’re still you, a self, a woman, Liz. What’s the personal side of you that tells your bigger story?
LS: In keeping with my love of old things, I’m very sentimental and attached to the way things “used to be,” and the way the world used to look and feel in my childhood and earlier. It’s a problem, and leaves me with a perpetual feeling of loss, but also a desire to protect and recapture or find and recreate that simpler world for my family. I believe that beauty, landscape and memory are very powerful forces on the mind, and I strive to lift the aesthetic and intellectual level of my surroundings, inside and out.
It bums me out how ugly and toxic things have gotten everywhere. People have just given up the effort to affect their personal world in so many ways, meanwhile allowing others to destroy it in big ways, on a grand scale.
I’m really quite DIY, which affords a lot of autonomy and satisfaction. I distrust authority and bureaucracy and large crowds, and I value the basic tenets of practicality, responsibility and usefulness. It’s crazy how illogical and lazy and dependent everyone has become, both mentally and physically.
I work best in my independent underdog mode, trying to stave the insidious corporate creep and technology takeover of my family dynamic. I’m still trying to be a citizen, albeit an outspoken one, and to raise my daughter as a savvy citizen, not just the crass targeted consumer of Disney Princess legacy, iTunes or booty shorts. I want her to be a schoolgirl for now, and for us all to enjoy a happy, healthy, safe home — because these things are essential and human and universal, but also because they are becoming more difficult and fleeting in the modern world.
These interviews can only provide a slight shade of what each of the unique women I have interviewed have to offer, and who they are. I’m already thinking of a zillion things about Liz that haven’t been said. Like how she uses a baby voice and says, “Aw honey,” if I’m sad about something in life. How she is a closet etymologist and mythologist and collector of lore. She looks for origins, and can kick your ass in Boggle.
Her compassion, her depth, her paranoia! But we won’t go there.
Point is that Liz is the essential example of someone who intentionally lives on a tight budget, saves her family tons of money as an engaged homemaker, adventures as well as any world traveler right in her own ‘hood, and creates a life of such exquisite beauty all while fairly well rejecting the whole overconsumption ethos driving the American experience and its expectations.
I couldn’t be luckier than to have her as my dearest friend.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List