All posts by elizabeth

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.

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in America.

At least it is in the blue states.  In the cities that try to make the streets safe for people instead of safe for cops.  In the jurisdictions overseen by the kind and conscientious instead of the hateful and fearful.

In the other places, the red districts, the small towns with cowboy-hatted bigots masquerading as a real government, today isn’t Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  It’s something else.

So it goes.

The US government gives us a Day for Washington, who created a legal process for recapturing human property in jurisdictions that had outlawed slavery.

A Day for all of the 45 men who have managed to become president, by whatever deeds, fair or foul, to share between them.

A Day for all the bluecoats, regardless of what they did or whether they wanted to do it, whether they were monsters looking for the chance to kill or were shattered inside by the first gunshot they were forced to fire.

A Day for all the bluecoats who died because one of those 45 special men couldn’t use their words to solve their problems.

A Day for workers, which most workers don’t have off, and specifically scheduled to undermine the legitimacy of the labor movement.

A Day for Jesus.

A Day for pretending that dangerous, violent, repressive religious extremists DID, in fact, receive a whole hemisphere of the earth as a present from their god, and the local native people were happy to be their magical savages.

A Day for congratulating all the above parties on how they totally 100% successfully created a great Enlightenment Eutopia.

A Day for Martin Luther King, Jr., killed by a “lone wolf” acting out the government’s wishes, for being audacious enough to dream of a day when his children could have white friends.

A Day to mark the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year.

And, on paper, a Day for Christopher Columbus, a religious fanatic who stole things and people from dozens of foreign nations to present them as tokens of conquest to the architects of the Spanish Inquisition.

We’re supposed to feel grateful that the millions of people who were killed, raped, tortured, kidnapped, enslaved, brainwashed, imprisoned, disenfranchised, and stripped of their families, possessions, homelands, languages, cultures, and identities by the legacy of this “explorer” are allowed to share his Day of recognition.

Because that makes it all better.

Columbus Day is a recent holiday, created because a particular, influential group of male, Catholic Italian-Americans didn’t feel like they were getting enough white privilege.  They wanted someone who was like them to be upheld as part of the American identity.  They wanted recognition of Italian and Catholic contributions to the US built into the myths of white American national identity.

There is no holiday specifically setting out Irish or German or Welsh or French or Greek or Ethiopian or Congolese or Sioux contributions to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating a great hero of atheism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Islam, or Judaism for their contributions to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating the contributions of queer people to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating an American woman, or even ALL American women generally, for contributions to American history.

There is no holiday recognizing that the state machine of the US was built by black slave labor, greased with native blood, powered by the sacrifices of unpaid femininity, maintained by a constant ingress of disenfranchised and vulnerable immigrants, and run on tracks laid by indentured Chinese immigrants over land stolen from native communities through more than a century of war.

Bullshit excuses and band-aid solutions like national “observances” of a “history month” won’t cut it.

Native people have been victimized by the United States from its infancy.  It’s time for the government to take responsibility for that legacy.  It’s time to be honest about it.

It’s time for white Americans to learn that the history of the oppressed is the history of the oppressor as well.  It’s time to own it, to face what happened, and do better moving forward.

It is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in America.  Today.

What will tomorrow be?

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.