In Which They Grow Fast

I intended to post about our new chicks when they were, um, new, right before Easter.  But then the world was full of sadness and anger and the trees started trying to have sex with my lungs, and here we are, five weeks later.

Our new girls:

Smallburrow the Welsummer, tiny.

Whitfoot the California Gray, tinier still.

Smallburrow again, looking like a smallish hen rather than a ball of ridiculous fluff.

Whitfoot again, 80% totally reasonable young pullet, 20% ball of ridiculous fluff.

They are doing well.  They came off the heating lamp this week, and next week they will probably meet the older hens for the first time.  In the meantime, they have been having some field trips out to the backyard under a laundry basket to practice that very important scratching and pecking.

WIP Wednesday (only slightly delayed)

start date: 19 May 2017
time elapsed: 6 days
completeness: 50%

Last summer, in a fit of pique, I tried to resign myself to doing shoes for the smalls the conventional way.

I was frustrated with my inability to make a shoe that stayed on Númenor’s foot, and I was out of the natural rubber soling material I use for all-purpose shoes anyway, so I gave in and bought shoes for the smalls.  Or at least I tried to.

I went to the websites where I normally buy shoes for Robert and myself.  I tried the vendors I’ve been hoping to win a pair from but couldn’t really afford, assuming their kids’ shoes would be cheaper.  I tried the brands I’d heard were for hippies.  None of them had acceptable shoes for children.  Several brands didn’t have kids’ sizes at all, a couple had adult sizes and baby booties but no shoes for children, and the few that had shoes in the right sizes for my kids were so aggressively gendered I couldn’t find anything I would consent to buy, much less anything my funky, post-gender kids were interested in.

So I finally just bought some cheap crap on Zulily.  And the smalls loved the way their “storebought shoes” looked, but they were stiff-soled and uncomfortable to wear, and the sneakers took too much work to get on and off, and they couldn’t be laundered, and one of the pairs of shoes I bought after trying my hardest to find things that passed the minimum standard STILL came with a California Prop 65 warning.

And now, 8 months in, the sneakers are worn through in the toes and aglets.  The flats still look okay, but they don’t have much time left in the toes, either.

So, to review:

Homemade Shoes

Pros: cheap, recycled/recyclable, easy to mend, washable, biodegradable, uses fabric scraps, custom, ergonomic, unique, sweatshop-free

Cons: time-consuming to make, time-consuming to repair, tend to slip off Númenor’s feet, last 4-10 months

Storebought Shoes

Pros: fast, novelty materials (glitter fabric, etc.), secure on the foot, reusable/recyclable boxes

Cons: non-biodegradable, produced with fossil fuels, assembled by slave labor, MUCH more expensive than homemade, produced by the thousands or millions, difficult for smalls to use without help, stiff soles, narrow footbed, cause cancer or reproductive harm, difficult to clean, nearly impossible to repair, packaged in unnecessary plastic, last about 8-10 months

And so, here I am making new shoes for the smalls at home again.

But in the intervening time, I came to a couple new conclusions: first, I only want shoes for the smalls to last less than a year at this point because they grow so fast, that’s about the lifespan of footwear for them anyway.  Second: I have been causing myself unnecessary grief using western-style shoes and a storebought pattern.

This time I’m trying a new approach: breech moccasins from a custom pattern I drafted from a water-resist impression of Númenor’s actual feet.  The toebox is nice and wide, and the soles are natural rubber crepe, cushioned with a layer of wool blanket and lined with a scrap of cotton muslin.  The uppers are sewn together from the few usable bits of an old pair of Robert’s twill pants and hand embroidered in variegated cotton floss.  They are designed to be lightweight on the foot and flexible, while still giving moderate protection from rough terrain and the elements.

So far, I love them.  They should stand up well, and be easy to mend and patch for a few months, and then, probably at the end of next fall or in the spring, they’ll be ready for the wadding bin.


The skull-print muslin is Blackbeard Skull in Black from the “Blackbeard’s Pirates” collection by Riley Blake Designs.

WIP Wednesday

I don’t know what it is about the last month or so, but I am stuck.  I currently have nine WIPs going– everything from fabric I just finished dyeing and haven’t cut yet to a nearly-finished soft toy– and none of them is speaking to me.  To make matters worse, when I push forward and try to work on something anyway, I inevitably screw it up.

Case in point: this shirt yoke.  I decided that, out of the THREE projects in my current workbag, it was the one that would be easiest to force my way through so I could build momentum for the rest of my life.  I nearly finished it this afternoon, sitting on the deck in the sunlight, and when I tried it on Ithilien, I discovered it was too big and the whole thing would have be made over, from the cast-on, so that it could be SIX stitches smaller.  Six.  Which is actually for the best because the lace I was trying to add to the bodice was a total wreck, because I hadn’t taken the time to chart the line-by-line instructions before I started so that I would have any hope of working it on an increasing piece.

How do I feel about that?  Well…

So, I’m giving up.  This day can suck it.  I’m going to have some cookie butter and try to forget my troubles.

I will be back in a few days to show pictures of our new chicks, and maybe talk about the last things I *did* successfully make before I got stuck in a Philadelphia.

And with any luck and a lot of streaming of sub-par horror movies, maybe next week there will be a real WIP Wednesday.

Food Culture

Yes, small children, first we drink the milk.  The good sweet milk, the rich fatty milk, the bluish cloudy clear-running milk.  Milk makes us, milk and mother.

And then we eat the berries, the tart and sweet and sticky berries with their staining juices.

We suck on the avocado pit, getting up the last of that patina of nutty, creamy richness.

We take a naive mouthful of lemon rind, grimace in surprise, but go back for another taste.  And another, sour-sweet and pith-bitter.

We bite the tomatoes, an explosion of seeds and flesh landing in hair and on noses, fragile, membranous skin tearing in our teeth, juice dripping down chins, and on our tongues the taste of sunshine, hoarded in a vessel the color of fire.

We eat the bitter, green, spring herbs, and the pollen-dusted dandelion, and the peppery arugula, and the delicately sour miner’s lettuce.

We crunch into the sweet-crisp-tart raw apple, cool from storage, and stew others until pasty and honey-scented.  We accept that the pear juice will run down to our elbows and drip off, leaving clothes sticky.  We gamely taste the raw quince, furry and unpleasant, but perfumed perfection once cooked.

We chew the bread crust, teeth working, jaw strong, using a shake of the head to get another mouthful.  The structural, tanned, golden brown crust, the spongy-soft crumb, the tang of wild yeast or the motherly kiss of molasses.

We eat the beans, stewed and soaked and puréed and raw from the pod in spring, verdant and herbaceous.

We taste little dips and finger-tips of sauces and salsas and dressings, some painfully spicy, some silky-smooth, some that make the back of your throat warm, some that pucker your cheeks.

And then we try potatoes; soft, fluffy mashed potatoes with melting-away butter, and the salty fries, and the green-and-white stick-to-your-ribs colcannon your great grandmother would rather die than admit to.

We tear the frybread, and it makes a sound like falling silk.  It leaves the barest sheen of oil on our fingertips, and smells like scalded milk and a hot pan.

We gobble down the pappardelle and slurp up the soup, we pile up the rice and we scrape up ice cream.  We crumble the granola between our fingers, lick them clean, taste brown sugar and almond and salt.

We dollop the yogurt and we spread the jam, we curl our tongues around backwards to lick up mouth-corners full of richly red pizza sauce.  We cup our hands around the bowl of curry, spiced and warm and full.  We spill the chocolate chips accidentally-on-purpose and half-tongue-melt, half-chew them up, bitter and sweet together, velvet against teeth.

We bite-suck the figs, seeds crunching in our maw, juice dribbling down chins, leathery outsides and succulent gelid inner chambers.

We dip everything, crunchy and crispy and salted, we clean our bowls of tangy-sweet beets and goat cheese, earthy hummus, the sloppy-but-salubrious seven layers, and we use a licked fingertip to gather up detritus of zaatar and otherworldly tendrils of saffron.

We taste the singing of the wildflowers in the honey, and the babylove nourishment of cheese, and you can try the smoke and the salmon together, and the salami over the mustard, and the chewy-meaty dried bison with cranberries, even though I don’t much care for them myself.

We relish the sour pickles, and crunch up the cabbage, raw and green or stomped and preserved, and we dig our fingers into the masa, and we thump the hot loaves and listen carefully for their response.

We carry the eggs tenderly into the house, scrub them and polish them, crack them open, find that golden treasure inside.

We pop the roasted cruciferous bits into our mouths, too hot to close our lips around, but with a delicious dark-brown edge and full of warm comfort.  We argue over the corner brownie and the bubbliest socca and the best-risen pão.  We put balsamic vinegar, dark and sweet and sour, on salads and bread, over sweet potatoes and in pasta, under vibrant basil leaves, in brine for precious figs.

We burn the tomatoes to bitter and jammy, and we toast the nuts, and we cook sugar golden-brown and sticky, and we seek the perfect pasta al dente, and we chew the pebbly dark-green raw kale.

We freeze and blend and blend and freeze, we boil away the air to keep the harvest for winter, and we scrape the salt out of the finishing pans, a hoarfrost of crystal pyramids.

We cannot resist the radishes, sulfurous and crunchy, or the barely-sweet crisp carrots.  We raise the fragile sprouts and shoots in a glass jar on the kitchen table and stir them into cottage cheese.  We crumble feta into homemade yogurt, and we roast garlic in the firepit, covering it with soot but making it buttery, rich, and savory.

We fold the pastry with practiced fingers and brush on butter, egg, milk, water, and sprinkle with sesame, poppy, salt, sugar, flax.  We drop the biscuits and we steam the tortillas.  We roll the crackers and we grease the pans.  We cut out the ginger-smelling cookies and stick our fingers together drizzling them with icing.

We share what we love, and we try new things.  We ask and we learn.  We give a tentative taste to the unknown, always ready to find a new favorite.  We are loud in restaurants, laughing and telling stories, and we are still and meditative over that first morning tea mug.

We reminisce together: that crispy, addictive pakora, that herbed and creamy dip with no cream in it, those delicate pastry boxes full of crunchy asparagus, those too-spicy tacos, those perfect chocolate chip cookies, the storebought guacamole and the sleepless nights.

And in the end, we are all of these things: milk and fruit, sweet and bitter, cookies and kale, salty and sour, memories and a sense of adventure.

That, small children, is the food of our culture, and the culture of our food.

Free Pattern: Sengi

The sengi, aka elephant shrew, is a small mammal native to the forests, grasslands, and rocky outcroppings of south-eastern Africa.   They have a long, flexible snout that allows them to use their amazing sense of smell in any direction without moving their eyes, and it is from this feature’s similarity to the elephant’s trunk that they received their rather fanciful English common name.

Genetic studies have revealed that the sengi is, in fact, more closely related to elephants than to true shrews, despite being only a few inches long and having a lifestyle more typical of rodents than ruminants.

The tiny rufous sengi, one of the smaller varieties of sengi, is less than 4″ long but can run at speeds over 8mph, making it the fastest terrestrial animal on earth relative to its size (it’s about twice as fast as a cheetah).  Each individual maintains a complex network of pathways through the grass and scrub of the savanna which it uses to hunt for food– mostly insects, but also seeds in the right season– and escape danger.

The rufous sengi is also basically Elvis for my children right now.  We were watching a BBC nature documentary about small animals (Hidden Kingdoms, it’s streaming on Netflix right now and I highly recommend it) when they first discovered it, and for the last month, sengis have been EVERYWHERE in their art, play, and imaginations.

Here’s a knitting pattern for a toy rufous sengi, suitable for an advanced  beginner.  She measures about 3.5″ from tip of nose to rump, with her tail about the same length as her body, and she stands a petite but powerful ~2″ tall on her specially-adapted long back feet (for zooming) and bitty front feet (for batting obstacles out of her paths in a dismissive manner).  Her white “socks” mark her as an adult– juveniles have brown legs and feet.  She is perfect for a stocking or an Easter basket, fits in a pocket, and is equally at home racing along the highway or just doing chores!

Sengi “housework”– gotta keep those paths clear!

The sengi’s body is knitted from tip of nose to tip of tail in the round, starting and ending with I-cord.  Her ears and front legs are picked up and knit from the body, and her hind legs are knitted separately in the round starting with I-cord and then sewn on.

Supplies:

  • dk yarn, about 40 yards, in light brown, tan, or rust (MC)
  • dk yarn, less than 10 yards, in white or cream (CC)
  • dk yarn, less than a yard, in chocolate or dark brown
  • two 8mm round black beads for eyes
  • small amount of stuffing (I used wool)
  • double-pointed needles, size US 5
  • yarn needle

Pattern:

using MC yarn, cast 3 sts onto a single needle

working as an I-cord, knit three rows

k1, kfb, k1 (4 sts)

knit one round

*kfb* all around (8 sts)

at this point I arranged my stitches on 3 needles, with 2 sts on the first needle and 3 on each of the others– this arrangement makes it easier to predict the shaping in the head

knit one round

k3, kfb, k1, kfb, k2 (10 sts)

knit one round

k4, kfb, k1, kfb, k3 (12 sts)

knit one round

k3, kfb, k2, kfb, k1, kfb, k2, kfb, k1 (16 sts)

knit one round

kfb, k15 (17 sts)

knit one round

s1k2tog psso, *k2tog* to end of round (8 sts)

knit two rounds

*kfb* around (16 sts)

knit in stockinette until the piece measures about 3″ from the base of the snout (about 3.5″ from the tip of the snout)

*k2tog* around (8 sts)

knit one round

stuff body and head firmly with the stuffing of your choice, remembering to add a little extra if you’re using wool or another stuffing that compacts a lot over time

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

knit 1 round

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

slide all sts onto a single needle and work I-cord until tail is about 2″ long

k2tog, k1 (2 sts)

continue in I-cord until tail is about 3″ long

k2tog (1 st)

break yarn and pull through remaining stitch to cinch closed

Front legs:

On the underside of the torso, just after the neck shaping, pick up 5 sts in a ring

with MC yarn, knit 1 row

k2, k2tog, k1 (4 sts)

switch to CC

knit 1 row

k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)

knit 1 row

break yarn and thread end through remaining 3 sts, cinch closed

repeat to place a second front leg next to the first

Hind legs:

using CC yarn, CO 3 sts and work I-cord

knit 4 rows

k1, R-inc, k2 (4sts)

knit 1 row

switch to MC

knit 2 rows

k1, R-inc, k2, R-inc, k1 (6sts)

knit 1 row

k1, R-inc, k4, R-inc, k1 (8 sts)

knit 2 rows

*k2, k2tog* around (6 sts)

*k1, k2tog* around (4sts)

*k2tog* around (2 sts)

leaving a generous yarn tail, break yarn, bring end through remaining sts, cinch to close.

Stitch the top of the sengi’s little drumstick securely to the side of her rump with the bind-off edge oriented directly to the top.

Repeat for other hind leg.

Ears:

All shaping is done on the OUTSIDE edge of the ear– the round begins at the inside.

Starting about one stitch away from the top midline of the head and moving outward along the same row of knitting, pick up four sts on one needle, then pick up four sts directly behind those sts on the head (8 sts)

Using MC, knit 2 rows

k3, L-inc, k2, R-inc, k3 (10 sts)

knit one row

k3, k2tog, k2tog, k3 (8sts)

*k2tog* around (4 sts)

break yarn, lace through remaining sts, pull to cinch.

Repeat for second ear on the other side of the midline of the top of the head.

Finishing:

With CC yarn, stitch a shallow “V” shape on each side of the sengi’s nose to frame her eyes.

With dark brown yarn, stitch two short lines from just in front of each her ear about 1-2 stitch lengths forward.

Sew the beads in place securely– between the endpoint of the dark brown line and the angle of the CC “V”– on either side of the head to make eyes.  I sewed on both eyes at the same time, securing them with a figure-8 stitch through the inside of the face to help nest the beads into the face more realistically.

Weave in and trim all your yarn and thread ends, and your sengi is ready for whatever fast-paced adventures life sends your way!

 

 

WIP Wednesday

start date: 8 March 2017
time elapsed: one week
completeness: 20%

I had quite a conundrum last week.

I was on strike last Wednesday, you see.  I had a whole day to myself, to do whatever I wanted.  But I couldn’t work on things for my family or my house, because that would have been scabbing.  So I started something new, something that looked fun and would probably teach me things I could stand to learn, but that was far from practical and totally unnecessary.

Something for me.

Those are pretty rare projects, honestly– I usually prioritize the children, then Robert, then the house, then my extended family, my communities, the earth, strangers, and finally myself.

But I had been gazing wistfully at the Ravelry page for this pattern for months, and it was just so pretty, and my crochet skills lag significantly behind all my other pursuits, which would make it a challenge to begin, much less complete.

So I pulled some leftover scraps of yarn out of my stash and started out, tentatively.

I made a flower, and then expanded it to a star.  And in the week since International Women’s Day, I made that star into a sun, and the sun into an octagon, in spare moments here and there between my other work.  Now I’m turning the octagon back into a star, slowly but surely, as this project eats up scraps and leftover single skeins from other projects.

As for what I’ll do with it when I’m finished, well, I don’t know.  For once, my project is about the process, not the product.  Obviously if I finish the whole thing I’ll have a massive piece, big enough to use as a coverlet for my bed, especially if I square up the corners.

Regardless of the finished size, I think what I have here is a fulcrum.  A balance point between frost and fire, in dye and animal hair.  Witchcraft, in short.

Witchcraft.


Yarns, from center of work to edge: Araucania Lauca in 1 French Blue Purple , Stacy Charles Fine Yarns Fiona in 510836, Schachenmayr Juvel in 2 Charcoal Heather, Ella Rae Classic Superwash in 22 Gray, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Fyberspates Scrumptious in 316 Charcoal (doubled), Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2646 Saltwater, Quince and Co. Owl in Cement, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 75 Garden Gate, Beaverslide Dry Goods 2 ply sport/sock in woodsmoke heather (doubled), Berroco Quasar in 8206, Valley Yarns Northampton in 15 Gold, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Riñihue in 1708, Classic Elite Kumara in 5714 Smoke, Malabrigo Rastita in 146 Peacock (blue), Paton’s North America Classic Wool DK Superwash in 12402, indigo worsted/aran from Ithaca Farmer’s Market, unknown silk/merino blend dark gray, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2647 Nor’easter, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Lauca in 3 Purple Dark Teal

35 Things To Call Donald Trump

Just because he’s a braying jackass of a human being doesn’t make it okay to body-shame him, and just because he is the living embodiment of his Klan-hooded Father’s retrograde id doesn’t mean it’s fair to dismiss him by ascribing his behavior to presumed mental illness.

English has a huge and colorful vocabulary.  We can label and describe him without debasing ourselves by using color, hair texture, body size, physical proportions, or neurological function.

So, to mark this, his 35th day in office as the Popular Vote Losing Illegitimate Swamp President, I present the first 35 things I could think of to call Donald Trump, limited to adjectives and adjectival phrases.

35 Things To Call Donald Trump

  1. Mendacious
  2. Self-Aggrandizing
  3. Abusive
  4. Predatory
  5. Amoral
  6. Authoritarian
  7. Petty
  8. Shallow
  9. Vain
  10. Greedy
  11. Vile
  12. Hateful
  13. Fear-mongering
  14. Monstrous
  15. Ostentatious
  16. Narcissistic
  17. Cruel
  18. Callous
  19. Traitorous
  20. Slanderous
  21. Indecent
  22. Despicable
  23. Embarrassing
  24. Xenophobic
  25. Ignorant
  26. Hypocritical
  27. Bullying
  28. White supremacist
  29. Apocalyptic
  30. Chauvinist
  31. Divisive
  32. Egotistical
  33. Conniving
  34. Bigoted
  35. Hostile

WIP Wednesday


start date: today
time elapsed: none
completeness: 0%

Sometimes you spend money and effort and time incalculable on a project for a child, and they are unmoved by it.  Sometimes you throw together something quick and necessary, and it becomes the #1 Best Most Loved Favorite Thing That Accompanies Them Everywhere Until It Is Destroyed By The Sheer Force Of Their Adoration.

Meet Ithilien’s alligator pants.  Or what’s left of the seat of his alligator pants, after nearly 3 years of weekly or better wear for the rough-and-tumble kinds of activities which small children find most appealing.

Frankly, I think they held up really well considering they are just linen and muslin and a few errant patches of baby wale corduroy.  But now they are no more.

In fact, they met their demise about two months ago, when Ithilien slid down the boulder next to the chicken yard for the bazillionth time.  And he was completely distraught when I told him that they were too far gone for the mending basket– not only were they worn transparent in the seat and the cuffs, but they had a permanent crease where I’d let out an earlier hem, and they were size 4T on a child who is now wearing 6/7.

I promised that we could make new alligator pants.  And he said, tears still shining on his face, “I want them to be soft and fuzzy like my favorite gray pants.”  Which are, of course, some synthetic fleece sweatshop-produced crap that my parents bought at Target when Númenor unexpectedly needed back-up pants while staying with them.

I hemmed and hawed and tried to convince the child of the merits of wool flannel and the all-seasons practicality of midweight linen-hemp canvas and briefly considered buying $24/yard organic cotton sweatshirt fleece in a green he didn’t think was alligatory enough before finally caving in and buying a yard of bright green polyester fleece.

I hate it so much I think I might die.

But Ithilien loves it.

And I’m trying to see the bright side: at least it’s warm.  It was cheap.  It won’t fray.  It looks okay with the patches and accent pocket from the old pants.  I won’t lose it in the laundry.  My parents can machine wash and dry it if necessary.

Oh, the things we do for love.


I’m using Rae’s Parsley Pants pattern in size 6.  I know she designed it for woven fabric, but I’m a rebel (and the previous alligator pants were Parsley Pants).  I’m not linking to the cheap polyester fleece, and you can’t make me.

Where We’ve Been

Lately, we’ve been reading ALL the bad news.

I have been crying for all the sweet babies and other human beings in peril and deprivation.

I have been writing all of the angry letters to politicians and leaving all of the broken-voice messages with their staff.

We’ve been washing every handkerchief in the house probably once a week.

Each of us has had a whole day, minimum, when we just couldn’t do it.  Couldn’t get up, couldn’t wake up, couldn’t be brought to bear with the day’s work.

We’ve been running low on the resources that keep us from yelling and pushing and fighting among ourselves.

We’ve been eating ALL the comfort food: starchy, creamy, cheesy, oh yes.

Robert has been listening to people say they’re scared to come to school.

Robert and I have been sitting up until dawn, talking.  Angry.  Scared.  Sad.

I have been quoting The New Colossus and warning people that this is the moment.  This.  Is.  The.  Moment.  in which they can choose to collaborate with evil or use their privilege to agitate for what’s right.

Mostly, though, what we’ve been doing– what, I think, we’ve ALL been doing for the past few weeks, is turning to everyone we meet, holding up what we loved about our lives in this country, and saying “Fix it.”

When Númenor was a toddler, he would bring things to me and plaintively lisp out “Broken.  Fix it?”

That’s where we all are right now.

It’s broken.

Fix it?

Someone?

Please?

At least tell us where to start.

What glue do you buy to put families divided by immigration policy back together?

What stitch can we use to patch up our hopes for the future?

How would you break down dismantling the imbalance of power between the traditional checks and balances into easy weekend projects?

Which infomercial tells me about the space-age no-mess solution for getting back what little transparency and accountability our government had?

How can we restore life, re-build places of worship, un-do what just happened?

Ultimately, a society isn’t a toy, and no amount of clever clamping and wood glue will fix a government that’s cracked through.

But still we stand here, outraged and unbelieving, sad and furious and on the verge of a toddler tantrum, demanding that someone fix it.

 

That’s where we’ve been.

I think we might be here for a while yet.  And that’s okay.  But it won’t be forever.  Someday, we will find the way forward.  We’ll land on the methods of resistance that work best.  We’ll find a strategy, and identify a first step, and then another, and another.  We’ll crawl back to the light.

In the meantime, people may be a little quiet and a little fragile, me included.

So take good care of yourselves, folks.  And watch out for each other– sometimes people lack the good sense to come in out of the rain.