The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Stuff in Ethiopia, stuff in Portland

There’s nothing like a trip to Ethiopia to remind a body that happiness does not lie in the amount of stuff a person owns.

Many households in Ethiopia can fit inside one small room of middle class American houses.  How is it that people still laugh and dance and tell stories and hug their families and welcome guests and share what food they have that day?  In fact…hmmm…people in Ethiopia seem to do that much better than most of us in America.

We know with our rational minds that stuff doesn’t make us happy and doesn’t make us good at slurping up the deep joys available all around us.  Ah.  But rational minds get trumped by lizard brain all the time.  There’s nothing like a move to make you think about all your stuff.

 The podly containers trundled up to our new house, holding our books, our papers, our photographs, and the small amount of furniture we chose to move.  A few muscled relatives arrived to wrestle things inside.  Now the big work begins, figuring out how to create a place for everything and put everything in its place.

I’ve never been good at a place for everything and everything in its place.

I am good at appreciating quirky things.  We visited the Community Warehouse, which provides furniture for refugee families setting up households in a new country and for low income families struggling with finding enough pennies to furnish a house or apartment.  When people donate quirky things, the Community Warehouse sells them to buy more, well, normal things.

Functional things.

These chairs aren’t all that normal, but they delighted us–and they fit so nicely with the giraffe that I carried from Ethiopia as a 17-year-old, probably my oldest surviving possession.  We also got a dresser and small chest at the Community Warehouse.

I’m deeply grateful for people who decide to share what they can’t use anymore.

This orange cat was the only thing I fell in love with at a community fair in Kenya when I was speaking at an international teachers’ conference there.


It suddenly fits beautifully with the new orange chairs.


We need to think about what kinds of blinds or curtains will grace the windows of our new little house.  One of my sisters pointed out that, what with the orange chairs and gold color of paint that we chose for the walls, the color in the windows should probably be…ummm….muted.  Egg-shell, anyone?

I have a bowl from another trip to Kenya that is a lovely egg-shell color with black geckos painted onto it.  It looks great held up against the gold walls.  I wonder if I can find a gecko design for curtains or blinds.

  Old things in a new house make it start to slowly feel like home.  Another sister gave me this penguin when I still lived in ND, and it has delighted family members over the years.  The big pot was made by an artist in Trinidad, Colorado, when my kids were little, and we’ve managed not to break it.  The wooden stools are from Ethiopia, as is the rug in the background.

We can’t really tackle the living room space yet.  The study with its desks and computers has to come first.  But I like seeing those things tucked in a corner.

Then there are new thrills.  We have a blackberry thicket in our back yard, and it’s thrilldom to go outside in the dewy morning to pick a few blackberries for my cereal.  This morning, a raccoon sauntered around the blackberry bushes, too.

Even when I was writing Lanie’s stories about the thrilldom of gardening, I’ve felt too busy with my writing, teaching, and volunteering for Ethiopia Reads to plant and tend gardens in my past few places.

Oregon, though, has such a lovely growing season.

Tempting.  But even if I don’t get the herbs and vegetables planted, I will have blackberries–and a few tomato plants in pots that my brother and his wife are giving us as a housewarming gift.

I’ll also have a free-not-tended-by-me reminder of Kansas.

 A sunflower is growing in the front yard!

Yesterday, a dad with his two kids adopted from Ethiopia came over for a copy of my book Trouble to give to a five-year-old girl who arrives in Portland from Ethiopia this week.  They brought sunflowers, too.  So as we slowly get Internet hooked up (yesterday) and haunt craigslist and second-hand furniture stores, we can remember our friends and family in the place we just left.

Chaos can be a good thing.

Turning one’s life upsidedown forces a body to slow down…sit at the open window and stare out at the blackberries…think about how the most precious stuff of life–water, food, books–gets delivered right to our American sinks and stores and libraries.

A moment for gratitude.

A reminder of the joy that comes not only with acquiring but when we share what we love and what we’re ready to give away.

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