All posts by elizabeth

Breaking News from Ithilien

We now take you to our special wildlife correspondent in the field with what appears to be a record-setting incident involving a squash.


Hood River County, Oregon– Ithilien Surton, age 7, reporting:

This little alligator has found herself in a serious situation.  She swallowed a whole pumpkin!  Take a look:

knitted alligator with pumpkin eraser in its mouth


The pattern is Baby Gators by Anna Hrachovec.  The pumpkin is an Iwako puzzle eraser.

Do they owe us a living?

Humans are social animals.  We’re not meant to live in isolation, and there are countless studies showing exactly that.

Furthermore, humans aren’t “flock” or “herd” type social animals, they are “pack” or “troop” type social animals.

What does this mean?

Well, simply put, it means that humans are meant to live together in groups for mutual benefit through diversified behavior.  Humans are meant to work together to do big tasks (hunt bison, raise barns, fight wildfires) and humans are designed to subsidize the survival of vulnerable individuals (babies, elders, the sick) through cost-sharing between resilient individuals.

These are not my opinions, this is biological fact.

So when, for example, Mitt Romney declares that 47% of Americans are “takers” and that this somehow represents an unfair burden on the remaining 53%, when red-state governments propose work requirements for free and reduced school lunch benefits, when Trump implies that the Indian Health Service is a raw deal for the US government because it’s providing benefits for “free,” these sentiments fly in the face of what it is to be human.

The social contract between a society and its members promises that people will be better off for their participation in the group.  Which means, at a baseline, that the very poorest, least-enfranchised members of this society should have better access to the necessities of life through social welfare than they could reasonably expect from relying entirely on their own efforts in isolation.

Therefore, for the modern US, social welfare for those at the bottom of the heap should reliably keep them alive– fed, watered, breathing, sheltered, safe.

Which means, yes, people are entitled to food.

And drinkable water.

And clean air.

And adequate shelter.

And safety.

That’s the minimum a society can provide in exchange for the strictures it places on human behavior.  If that standard isn’t being met, there’s no onus upon the disenfranchised to follow society’s rules.

What the government is getting in exchange for KEEPING PEOPLE ALIVE is the right to exist and promulgate rules.  What the rich are getting in exchange for the portion of their wealth that is redistributed to the poor is a workforce of valets and baristas and cannery employees who won’t rob and murder them out of desperation.  What the healthy, the strong, the intelligent, the fit, the skilled get in exchange for working to support the sick, the weak, the ignorant, the unfit, the unskilled is security.

To put it another way: no justice, no peace.

(And that’s completely aside from the moral argument, because (and I wish this still went without saying) it is reprehensible to allow people to starve while those who are fed destroy their excess food.  If you have more than enough of something, and someone else needs some to live, you share your surplus with them freely.  It’s what Jesus would do.  Heck, Jesus was famous for sharing what he had with others when he didn’t have enough for just himself.)

So, to review: are people entitled to food?  YES.  Is water a human right?  YES.  Are we entitled to clean air to breathe?  YES.  Are we entitled to adequate shelter?  YES.  Do we deserve to be safe?  YES.

Do they owe us a living?

One more time, for those in the back:

Do they owe us a living?  Of course they fucking do.

Women’s Work

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I have to quickly bring in the laundry before it blows away.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But my children need me to help them read difficult words.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I also need to eat breakfast.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I’m remembering that I need to get to the mending.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But my child is making frustrated noises waiting for my attention.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But a chicken has ducked under the fence.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I’m the only one who knows where the candy thermometer is supposed to go.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I can see a pile of clutter waiting for my attention.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But someone has left the back door open again.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But it’s snack time.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But every time I’m interrupted my thoughts scatter like dry leaves on the wind.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I have to spend precious seconds gathering my errant thoughts up again.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I’m remembering Sylvia Plath dying of quiet desperation.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I’m thinking about yellow wallpaper.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But I can’t get the image of Marie Curie working the second shift out of my head.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But it’s taken me most of an hour to get through this paragraph.

I’m only writing an e-mail to a friend.

But it’s so much work.

Sinfully Easy Homemade Pudding

My family has a milk problem.  We buy pretty awesome milk– it’s local, it’s organic, it’s unhomogenized, and it’s pasteurized just enough to satisfy the legal requirement– but it’s only available by the full gallon.  A gallon of milk– in a family full of people who never developed the taste for cow’s milk– is a LOT.

Lately we’ve settled into a pattern in which we buy two gallons of milk at the start of the month, use the first gallon to make yogurt, and the second gallon goes into a recipe here or there and then just kind of sits around waiting.  It goes sour– so we use it for baking and soup instead of desserts and sauces– and then it goes actually bad, so there’s nothing left to do but let the last half-gallon or so clabber and then give it to the chickens.

To combat this waste, I’ve been experimenting with homemade puddings.  I love pudding, silky and creamy and sweet, and it’s an excellent way to use up milk.

Below is my master recipe for homemade pudding, followed by a long list of flavor options.  Choose your own adventure!

The basic recipe (and some of the less-modified versions, like vanilla and tea leaves) fills 3 half-pint canning jars perfectly.  Versions with a large volume of additions (fruit flavored, chocolate almond, etc.) may take 4 half-pints or more.

  • 3 cups whole milk*, divided
  • 2/3 cup turbinado sugar (white or light brown will work, too)
  • dash of salt
  • 3.5 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca flour

mise en place:

Pour 1 cup of the milk into a small container and whisk in cornstarch until completely dissolved.

Combine sugar and salt.

  1. Pour the remaining 2 cups milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepot and heat just below medium, stirring frequently, until warmed through and steamy.
  2. Stir in the sugar/salt mixture, mixing well until all crystals are dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the cornstarch/milk mixture, stirring constantly.
  4. Stir constantly and continue to cook until the pudding coats the side of the pot and a light trace is achieved.  Remove from heat, continuing to stir through frequently to minimize skin.
  5. Pour into canning jars, filling as close to the top as possible to minimize the formation of skin, lid tightly and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.  Keeps for at least a week, although some flavors may start to suffer after a few days.

*dairy alternatives will also work, but if you want to use a pre-sweetened product (such as Vanilla Silk) sugar should be reduced to 1/3 cup

For very vanilla pudding, stir 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or powder into the sugar/salt mixture.  Use a 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste/powder if you’re after something more subtle.

For delicate banana pudding, make as above and layer thin slices of one ripe banana into the jars as you pour in the hot pudding.  Chill at least 5 hours to infuse with flavor and use within 3 days.  The banana slices will start to oxidize after about 12 hours, so if appearance is important, be prepared to use it sooner rather than later.

For intensely chocolate pudding, make as above but add 1/3 cup of cocoa powder (natural will give a better flavor than Dutched) into the sugar/salt mixture during mise en place.

For chocolate-almond pudding, make as chocolate pudding and add 2 tablespoons of amaretto or almond extract to the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Top with slivered or chopped almonds.

For rustic, fruit-speckled pudding (my children especially love strawberry), stir 1 cup of fruit purée into the cold milk and prepare as above.  This pudding will be thicker than others due to the pectin in the fruit.  If you’re using overripe fruit, it may acidify your milk and cause it to separate, but just keep whisking and have faith– the starch will bring it back together.

For salted caramel pudding, increase salt to 1 teaspoon, and dry caramelize the sugar in a separate pot to a medium golden brown and scrape slowly into steaming milk, stirring constantly to avoid scalding.  Especially nice topped with chantilly cream and a few delicate flakes of sea salt just before serving.

For cookies and cream pudding, powder 3 chocolate sandwich cookies and finely crush or chop another six.  Prepare pudding as above, then stir these variously destroyed cookies into hot pudding.

For chocolate chip cookie pudding, add a pinch of vanilla powder to the sugar, add 1.5 teaspoons blackstrap molasses and 2 tablespoons browned butter to the cold milk, and layer with a sprinkling of chocolate chips in the jars.

For a unique, sophisticated flavor choice, pour the contents of a tea bag (or about 1tsp finely-crushed loose leaf tea) into the cold milk.  Earl grey is a lovely choice, as is Good Earth Sweet and Spicy.

For chocolate mint cookie pudding (great for Thin Mint lovers), prepare as chocolate pudding, then stir 1 teaspoon peppermint extract into the hot pudding.  You can also stir in crushed Thin Mints or similar cookies.

Happy Rain Day

The Pacific Northwest is infamous for its wet, for its rain.

This is largely a deserved reputation.

Sure, during the summer it can be dangerously dry and baking hot, and most areas get a decent amount of snow in the winter, too, but we are defined, especially in the popular imagination, by rain.

We are people who thrive on cool and damp, here, like mushrooms, wild but ultimately predictable, staining outlandish colors and unpleasantly sticky, weirdly dry, or dusty with spores ready to spread our clones through the understory.

Actually, that last bit may only apply to literal mushrooms.

But the point is, rain.  Rain people, that’s us.

And also salmon people.  And forest people.  And hunters.  And farmers.  And ranchers.  And fruit-pickers.  And brewmasters.  And professional webcomic artists.  And cat sweater knitters.  And vegan cookie couriers.

Both vegans that are couriers of cookies AND couriers who carry vegan cookies, that is.  Probably vegan couriers of vegan cookies, too.  On bikes, of course.

Anyway.

We are in the middle of a good, solid soak right now.  I look my weather app and the sidebar ads are for plans to build an Ark.

The great blue heron that lives in the creek on the edge of our backyard is probably pretty psyched about this.  My small children are delighted, and muddy.  My chickens are distinctly bedraggled.  I am accepting the mud with as much grace as I can muster, but the rain?

The rain…

I love it.

I love the smell of it, the humidity in the air before it starts and the overwhelming scent of water during the fall and the earthy, confusingly-clean smell of soil bacteria doing its thing afterward.

I love the way it sounds on the roof or blown hard against the walls of the house.

I love the way it feels as individual, ponderous drops soak through my clothing, or as it softly splatters against my bare skin, or as icy splashes lick the fingertips I dip out of a barely-open car window.

I love the way tiny raindrops embroider cedar fronds, and big drips accumulate on maple leaf tips, and a steady mist seems to sow moss wherever it falls.

So basically, I’m living my best life right now, in the late spring Gorge.  If I didn’t have to spend so much of my time scrubbing mud out of some people’s clothing and hair, it would be idyllic.

But perhaps my favorite part of the rain is that when it rains outside, it changes everything inside, too.

By which I mean mud.  Everywhere.  Mud.  So much mud.  Yes.

But also also, a little damp chill in the air making people want to snuggle more.

Soup weather.

Wet clothes steaming in front of a fireplace.  Hot mugs for frozen fingers to cup.

Midday sun through windows reduced to a kind of sepia-toned amorphous glow.

Beautiful watery patterns tracing down glass, constantly changing.

Warm baths, warm beds, warm socks.

Rainy spring days are kind of like a vacation from the preparations and hustle of renewal, like even the earth is taking a mental health day.

Sometimes, being humans, we need to resist that clarion call to snuggle up and Do Things Instead Because Expectations.

But I think it’s important, especially during these weeks when the rain never seems to slacken, to declare some Rain Days for ourselves, too.

I’m taking one.  You should, too.

Drink deep.  Soak it up.  You’ll need it later.

Last call

This is the last hurrah of winter.

The last big storm.

Probably the last snow to hit us, down here on the river.

We’re past Imbolc now, and starting the garden.  We’re just a few short weeks away from the light half of the year, the overture of spring, fresh miner’s lettuce and garlic scapes.

I’ve sat in the sun for an afternoon– albeit with a shawl– and felt the light down to my bones.  It’s a bright, clear, bare sort of light in winter; not the sun of summer, indolent and salubrious, nor the brightness of spring, gentle and warming, nor even the dying opulence of the sideways autumn light.  Winter sun is sparse, both in frequency and in character.

But still, new growth is starting.  The earth is starting to stir beneath her blanket of snow and ice, and soon she will be kicking off the bedclothes and stretching toward the sun through the lengthening days.

The breeze smells of damp soil, rot, and a last sharpness of snow.

Ayyam-i-ha is only days away now, and then spring will come.  The moon is swelling back to full again to mark the return of the worm.

Soon we’ll turn the page on the dark half of this year.

This is the last chance for winter.  The last call to get outside and make footprints in negative space against the white mantle.  The last cozy afternoon under a blanket with your knitting.  The last long, dark evening for board games and books.  The last contemplative, gray morning before the rosy-pink sunrise.  The last opportunity to stand under a tree dripping with melting snow, making soft, fawn-coat splatters on the earth at your feet.

The last handful of snow clean enough to eat.  The last white-flocked tree branches standing in stark relief against the dark forest.  The last freeform, half-melted ice sculptures glittering on the gutters.  The last snowmelt puddle under the car.

Soon the icicles will fall off, and Coldweather will bow to Warmweather.

Until next winter.

Dear Pinterest

Dear Pinterest,

I know this is a weird way to start a letter, but I’m not a first-time mom.  And I’m not a new mom, either.  And regardless of my reproductive status, please try to understand that I have absolutely ZERO interest in gender reveal party ideas.

I don’t want to read reddit screencaps promoting misogyny, even if it’s camouflaged as “men’s rights”.

I’m not Mormon.  I’m not Christian.  My dudes, I am not even into religion at all.

I don’t want to learn about celebrity haircuts that could make me look younger.  I cherish the time I have lived, and I’m not a follower.

I am not an older woman, and even if I were, I wouldn’t care about anti-aging cream or makeup tips for hiding wrinkles and age spots.

I have a very solid understanding of what people ate in the 1800s.  And, while we’re on the subject of my ancestry, I don’t have a German name, or a French name, or an Italian name.  In fact, I know exactly what my family name means, whereas you cannot possibly guess.

I have no interest in buying false eyelashes, magnetic or otherwise.  If I wanted to wear falsies, I have three entire yards of black silk organza to work with, so I still wouldn’t need your help.

I’m not a prepper, and I don’t own a gun.  I would NEVER own a gun, even if, in the parlance of the times, SHTF.

I am not homeschooling my kids for religious reasons.  I don’t want to know how to teach them the Bible, why I should have them memorize the Bible, or how to teach them “Why God wants them to stay pure!”

I could never name all 50 state capitals, not even when I was a kid.

I don’t need the top 12 meditations for Christian mothers.  I am not a Christian, Pinterest.  I can’t believe you still don’t understand this.

I’m not in high school or college.  I see why this one confused you– I remember those days and am happy to chuckle along to memes about those experiences, but for real, stop pretending you don’t know how old I am.  We both know you know.

I will totally believe what Marsha from the Brady Bunch looks like now.  I am, in fact, familiar with the concept of women aging.

My kids are not stressed-out middle schoolers, and they don’t need easy science fair ideas.  If they did, I wouldn’t come to you for it, because I want to raise children who understand what science really is.

I don’t think having kids earn allowance or privileges in a strict quid pro quo system is good for their development; I definitely don’t think it’s “genius.”

I don’t care that some people took the same family portrait pose for however many years, and I don’t like being told not to cry.  I’ll cry if I damn well need to, and frankly, the only family portraits I want to see have people I know in them.

I’m not vegan, Paleo, keto, gluten-free, low-carb, or no-sugar.  I do like to shape what my family eats by specific guidelines, but you wouldn’t understand my system because it doesn’t have a hashtag.

I hate Marvel movies.  Really, I do.  And I’m not a fan of Disney.

I’m not a dog person, and if I were, I wouldn’t choose a dog to join my family based on the projected popularity of dog breeds in 2018.  A dog is not a paint color.

Speaking of paint colors, I do not care if houses with blue bathrooms sold faster and for more money in 2017, because a) I don’t have a house to paint, b) if I did, the popularity of certain features wouldn’t matter to me, and c) I don’t think of a house as a way to store money.

I know exactly which Kardashian sister I am (none of them), so I don’t need your personality test.  I also already know which Ministry of Magic job I’d have (Minister for Magic), and which character on “Little House on the Praire” I am most like (Brave #1).  Fuck off with this shit, it’s weird.

I am not a Jehovah’s Witness.  Again, I am not even a Christian.

I don’t shop at IKEA, I don’t understand why I would want “better-for-you gnocchi” to even be a thing, and I think if you need a personality quiz to tell you what kind of blog to start, you probably shouldn’t bother.

Finally, I don’t know quite how to put this, but I have actually negative interest in exploring essential oil regimens to promote weight loss, and the pinned image you are using to bring my attention to this particular bit of content is despicable.  You should be ashamed.

Sincerely, but in no way yours,

Elizabeth Surton

Changes

I have been buried under a mountain of work all month, and have just now managed to see a glimpse of daylight again.

We dramatically shook up our lives, downsized our possessions and space, and re-committed to building a local, fleshspace community.

I re-thought the storage of my work materials to bring the spinning wheel back out of deep storage.  I have a handspinning rare wool kit from several years ago that I have yet to use, and while I do want to spin some of it on my lovely Turkish drop spindle (which I also have yet to master), some of it will need the wheel.

We gave the smalls a day nursery for toys and art and games and books, so that we can move to a daily rhythm that doesn’t include cleaning-up friction.

We made wall space for our bigger maps and pushed Númenor and Ithilien a little harder on reading and writing so we could break through to grammar and semantics.  We joined a homeschooling group.

Our pullets laid their first eggs and our older hens gracefully accepted a dramatic change in their own space.  I made baskets, the first woven from cedar bark and twined sedge grass, and the last one crocheted from old t-shirts.

We canned applesauce and roasted Bavarian nuts and gave thoughtful Christmas presents and did magic and ate dinner in restaurants and fanned smoke and poured candles.

We watched the snow fall.  We fought our way through ice and storm to be with our extended family.  We ran and played and warmed up again by the dint of effort and seemingly endless cups of cider and cocoa.

We set up our movie projector.  We welcomed a fantastically bristly douglas fir into our living room.  I crocheted axolotls.  Robert sewed pants.  Númenor and Ithilien made felt balls and simmered them in Kool-Aid.

And as the last few hours of 2017 pass us by, we will be busy in the kitchen, making treats and trying experiments and (hopefully) starting some new soap.

May 2018 bring us peace, understanding, joy, victory, and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in darkness.  May the returning sun shine bright into the shadows and the rush of spring green lift us all to new life.

Mirror

I see my grandmother’s soft belly, warm and comfortable like a living pillow.  I see her thick, strong legs, hardened to oaken knots by a dozen miles walked each day between the clothesline, the kitchen, the pantry, the garden, the sewing machine.

I see my mother’s supple arms, smelling like home and squeezing tight to show love.  I see her feet, sure and straight.

I see my father’s hair, so dark it’s nearly black.

I see my grandmother’s lips, berry-pink, with a twist that seems halfway between haughty scorn and delighted laughter.

I see my grandfather’s nose, round and straight and tanned from the summer sun.

I see my children’s skin, sprinkled with little brown freckles like the punctuation marks of a poet.

I see my brother’s chin, scarred and healed, healed and scarred again, full of hurt and balm and lessons learned many times but still forgotten.

I see my great-grandmothers’ hands, nimble and dexterous in their work, stiff and sore after too much of it.

I see my great-grandfather’s ears, delicate, perfect, a little too fussy for the rest of the face.

I see my ancestors’ blood, carried laboriously over seas and through mountain passes to nourish the tiny ball of nothing that would become me.

 

When I look in the mirror, I can’t see myself.

It’s like locking eyes with a stranger, at once too intimate and thrillingly alien.

If a stranger could be the sum of my heritage multiplied by my experiences and divided by my physiology.

If a stranger could have the breasts that nourish my babies, and the eyes I remember from my childhood, and the posture of my sassy teenage years, and the nascent tracery of my age.

Fuck.

Reflections are crowded.