Category Archives: Family

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.

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.

“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

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:

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!