Things I Have Told My Children They Could Be When They Grow Up

  • fire watcher
  • bike courier
  • delivery truck driver
  • security guard
  • zookeeper
  • cartoonist
  • custodian
  • technical diver
  • special effects makeup artist
  • fisher
  • pastry chef
  • glazier
  • robotics engineer
  • hobo
  • ceramicist
  • apiarist
  • librarian
  • checkout clerk
  • weaver
  • landscaper
  • Foley artist
  • tollbooth attendant
  • line cook
  • cartographer
  • sex worker
  • farmer
  • orchardist
  • book artist
  • astronomer
  • cobbler
  • blacksmith
  • clown
  • tree surgeon
  • restorer
  • housekeeper
  • line technician
  • animator
  • silversmith
  • postal carrier
  • paleontologist
  • calligrapher
  • secretary
  • charcoal burner
  • firefighter
  • teacher
  • chef de cuisine
  • spice harvester
  • vintner
  • travel journalist
  • parking attendant
  • blogger
  • oceanographer
  • food service worker
  • sanitation worker
  • restauranteur
  • auto mechanic
  • tinker
  • musician
  • vulcanologist
  • college professor
  • sommelier
  • meteorologist
  • television host
  • rancher
  • bus driver
  • actor
  • plumber
  • bike mechanic
  • paramedic
  • YouTube personality
  • cheesemaker
  • pollster
  • park ranger
  • homemaker
  • brewmaster
  • electrician
  • historian
  • baker
  • civil engineer
  • hotelier
  • social worker
  • linguist
  • marine biologist
  • archaeologist
  • lumberjack
  • shopkeeper
  • historical gastronomist
  • hunting guide
  • knitwear designer
  • inventor
  • forensic anthropologist
  • museum docent
  • barge captain
  • primatologist
  • cooper
  • herbalist
  • religious ascetic
  • bloodspatter analyst
  • picador
  • entomologist
  • nurse
  • miller
  • publicist
  • orphanage worker
  • finger artist
  • historical re-enactor
  • abortion provider
  • elephant trainer
  • food truck owner
  • radiologist
  • drive-in theater operator
  • author
  • geologist
  • tailor
  • fitness instructor
  • publisher
  • psychotherapist
  • ferry operator
  • storyteller
  • childcare provider
  • guerrilla conservationist
  • carpenter
  • building contractor
  • etymologist
  • historical archivist
  • film editor
  • trucker

Today, We are Not Quite on Fire

Not quite.

We’ve been under a canopy of smoke that blows away in the morning and comes back overnight for more than a month courtesy of that huge fire in British Columbia.  Our August was hazy and hot and almost eerily still.

But last night, as we drove home from a mini-vacation, we were able to see flames from the Eagle Creek fire from I-84.  The air was greenish gray and thick with smoke, so thick you didn’t so much smell the smoke as taste it.

And this morning, the world is covered in a dusting of ash.

But we are not on fire yet.

And soon, the rain will come.

It’s not in the forecast yet, but it’s coming.  I have faith.

And when the rain comes, and the fires are beaten back, and the forests are left blackened and alien in their quiet, and the world around us enters its autumn, we will all breathe a little easier, through lungs and in minds.

But for now, we are hiding inside with the windows sealed up tight, holding our breath as the house holds its breath, and the people who protect our community are fighting and sweating, because today, we are not quite on fire.

Not quite.

“How do I explain this to my kids?”

People love to invoke terrifying conversations that scar children for life whenever progressives are pushing for changes that will improve the lives of marginalized people.  Over the course of my life, I’ve heard people object to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting on the basis that they couldn’t explain it to their children.

This is manifestly bullshit.  If your kid comes home from kindergarten and asks you where Heather’s daddy is and why she has two mommies, you say “There are all kinds of different families– some people have a mommy and a daddy, and some people have two mommies, and some people have two daddies, and some people have just one parent.  People are all kinds of ways.”  Done and done.

But there are some things I shouldn’t have to explain to my kids, because they shouldn’t be real.  For example:

20 Things I Shouldn’t Have to Explain to My Kids

  1. Normalization of non-consensual touching.  Obviously this includes rape, but more often, especially in children’s media, it’s smaller things like kissing someone or tapping their shoulder over their objections, that are overwhelmingly dismissed as “teasing” but obviously normalize a lack of bodily autonomy.
  2. Deportation of unaccompanied child refugees.  Did you know that children as young as three years of age are expected to act as their own attorneys in deportation proceedings?  Disgusting.
  3. Islamophobic violence.  I don’t even know where to start on this one.
  4. Children dying of neglect or abuse, especially when the people who are supposed to protect children from harm in the worst case scenarios (cops, social workers, CPS, etc.) are aware of the situation and failed to act.
  5. The glass ceiling.  We’ve had MANY talks about this one in the last several months.
  6. The “gay panic” legal defense.  What.  The.  Actual.  Fuck.
  7. Police murdering young people of color in the street with apparent impunity.
  8. Body shaming.  Why is the episode of Phineas and Ferb about Candance body-swapping with Perry the Platypus called “Does This Duckbill Make Me Look Fat?”?  How is that child-appropriate, Disney?
  9. Cartoon misogyny and gender policing in general.  It is absurd that I have to point out to my children explicitly that non-femmefolk have eyelashes in real life.
  10. “Chief Wahoo”, “Chief Thunderthud”, and Tonto.  None of that shit should have happened.  None of that shit should be CONTINUING to happen.
  11. Blackface.  We recently looked up some of Bojangles Robinson’s tap dancing on YouTube and inadvertently opened a whole can of horrible racist worms.  Thanks, 20th-century America!
  12. Rooms full of old white men making decisions about children, women, and people of color.
  13. “Sundown Towns” and lynch law and slavery and the Back to Africa movement and everything else white supremacist society has cooked up to eliminate black people.
  14. Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons advocating the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, and, in fact, Japanese and Japanese-American internment itself.
  15. Reservations, the Trail of Tears, extermination campaigns (aka “the Indian Wars”), Indian scalp bounties, buffalo culls, Philip “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” Sheridan, the Indian Removal Act, and the cultural holocaust (including residential schools and the Dawes Act).  Not a complete list.
  16. Accidental shooting deaths of children.  The NRA has successfully lobbied against parents receiving information about the dangers of guns at child well-visits, and apparently everyone is just okay with this even though TODDLERS continue to accidentally shoot themselves and their family members on a regular basis in this country.  I cannot with this.
  17. The criminalization of abuse victims who act in self-defense.  How am I supposed to raise kids who stick up for themselves enough but not “too much”?
  18. Companies paying millions of dollars to defend their right to destroy the planet on which all their employees and customers live.  WHAT.
  19. The Flint water crisis.  And, by the same token, Love Canal, Cancer Alley and whatever the next poisoned, neglected, and gaslit community is going to be.
  20. The pay gap, the second shift, and all that other bullshit that characterizes the price of living while female in this country of supposed liberty and justice.

WIP Wednesday

start date: 12 May 2017
time elapsed: 3 weeks 5 days
completeness: 100%

This is the me-too shirt for Númenor’s robot shirt.  Of course, it’s a different pattern.  Not just a different one, but a more complicated one as well.  No matter, I thought.  At this stage in my sewing, I reasoned, I can handle just about anything.

Thereby I disproved the existence of god.  Because if there were such an entity, everyone would have heard them laughing at me.

This pattern was okay in terms of difficulty.  It wasn’t too fiddly, and the instructions were pretty clear.  But I used a pattern from a designer I’ve had trouble with in the past without making a muslin first.  Their clothes are so freaking cute, but I already knew that they really struggled with armscyes and their facings sometimes just didn’t work.  And I should have relied more on that past experience.  But it was so cute, and the size promised in the pattern was perfect.

And most of the pattern was fine.

But the neckline.

The neckline.

I finished the bodice and called Ithilien over so I could double-check the sizing by popping it over his head.  But it wouldn’t fit over his head.  It wasn’t even close.

So I unpicked the bodice and tried again.  This time he could put it on, but it was tight across the chest and stranglingly tight in the neckline when zipped up.

I unpicked some more.  I re-worked the side seams to give him an extra half inch in the chest, and took the zipper out, and cut the back split down an extra inch, and cut the whole neckline an extra half-inch lower.  Now it fit fine.

But the neck facing from the pattern obviously wouldn’t work anymore.

So I made up some bias tape with my new, beautiful, antique sad irons, and finished it off with a button and a loop.

And now, well, it’s perfect.  Which could be seen as all this effort paying off.

But for me, the thing that makes it most worthwhile to have finally fixed this cute little top is that it reminded me– very painfully– to consider the source when I sew up a pattern.  Next time, I’ll be working from a designer I’ve had good experiences with.

Maybe I’m just cynical, but caveat emptor seems to apply even more when it comes to things offered for free.  Maybe the modern advice would be closer to caveat usor.

Or, you know, semper muslinus prius facere.


The pattern, which I can’t recommend, is Modern Baby Doll Top by Shwin & Shwin; in addition to the modifications to the neckline and closure discussed above, I also gave it a straight hem.  The fabric is the same as last week.  The buttons are from my collection.  The irons are Geneva 8s, purchased on Etsy.

WIP Wednesday

date started: 12 May 2017
time elapsed: 2 weeks 5 days
completeness: 10%

Númenor is of a certain age now.  He’s transitioning from being a little kid to being an unmodified-kid.  And part of that, in our family, is that he has recently become responsible for his own wardrobe.

Babies and little kids, the way I see it, live in borrowed clothes.  They are welcome to have favorites and to refuse to wear certain things and give input for purchasing decisions as they get older, but nothing really belongs to them.  I decide what to buy, what to keep, how and when to mend it, when and how to care for it– they just live in it.  But where little kids’ sizing ends, at around size 6/7, that changes.

Whereas in all the smaller sizes Númenor has already had clothing waiting for him when he was big enough to wear it, when he got big enough to wear a 6X/7, there was nothing in the hand-me-down bin.  Instead, he got a checklist of clothes and accessories that needed to be in his wardrobe for the summer, and a budget to spend on them.

Of course, one of the ways he’s allowed to allocate funds is to ask me to make things for him.  And of all the things he needed, the only one he couldn’t scrape together for himself was short-sleeved shirts.  So I pulled out a cut of organic cotton sateen I bought on clearance years ago and showed him a selection of patterns that would work for the fabric, and we got to work.

And, as a bonus, we had enough fabric left over to cut a shirt (from a different pattern, natch) for Ithilien.

This is the first of a pair of coordinating-but-not-matching robot shirts for our summer adventures.  The pattern Númenor wanted is a modernist send-up of a huipil– very simple, slightly boxy, with this lovely, smooth-against-the-skin blanket-stitch neckline cut to frame the collarbones.

Believe it or not, I had never used a blanket stitch to encase a rolled, curved hem like this before.  It is ideal for the task technically, and a perfectly lighthearted design element for a child’s garment.

All in all, it makes for some gorgeous sunny-afternoon-on-the-back-deck sewing.


The fabric is “Robot Factory Screen Print” from Robert Kaufman.  The pattern is Purl Soho’s embroidered denim jumper.

And, as an aside, here’s how last week’s WIP turned out:

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.