Tag Archives: sincerity

These Two Things

I’ve been scrabbling desperately to get a grip on the way forward this month, so I’ve been hanging back, practicing self-care, and just trying to get my head clear.

Here’s what I have:

The world has gotten scary.  People are dying in the streets.  The white hoods are back.  The government is torturing Indians in furtherance of giving them poison to drink.  Children are learning that hate is an American value.

There are two things that I know are true, that we can use against this terror and darkness.

Over the past weeks, they have seemed like laughably inconsequential things and impossibly large things, but they’ve never stopped being primal.

The first thing is love.  We can love ourselves.  We can love each other.  We can love fat people, not-conventionally-attractive people, “fours”, “losers”, black people, people who don’t speak English, trans people, disabled people, gay people, people who have had abortions, Muslim people, native people, people who have been “grabbed”, all the people.  We can love them.  We can love us.

And that’s the most powerful tool we have against hate and fear: we can choose love instead.  We can reject the notion that some are so different that they are unlovable.  We can laugh in the face of the cultural rubric we’re supposed to use to judge the value of femmefolk and just love them instead.

We can practice self-care.  We can make safe spaces for each other.  We can help one another.  We can reach out.  We can stand in the street in front of the mosque and say “These people are my neighbors.  I love them, and I won’t let you harm them.”  We can give a colleague a hug and say “You are loved.”  We can offer flowers to strangers, like hippies, and we can tell them– yes, those people we don’t even know– that we love them.  We can see someone struggling and offer our help.  We can ask what the family down the street needs to be safe, and help them get it.  We can love.  We can love the white working-class, and let them know that there’s a place for them in the future.  We can raise children who know, like Mister Rogers used to say, that there’s no one in the world quite like them and people can like them just the way they are.  We can tell gay kids and fat kids and brown-skinned kids that the world is fucked up, but they are just fine the way they are.  We can listen to people, especially when they say they are being harmed.

We can love the earth, too.  I know that this is like, “Again with the hippie nonsense?!”, but it’s still true.  We can love the trees.  We can lovingly plant wildflowers for pollinators to find.  We can pick up trash at the beach because we love the ocean, and the birds, and the sand.  We can sit outside and breathe deep and love the air.

We can reach out into our communities and our world and love what we find.  We don’t have to withdraw and fear what’s outside.  We can offer love as an alternative to hate.

That’s the first thing.

The second thing is a bit harder.

Yes, harder than loving strangers.

But it’s just as important.

The second thing is independence.  We can do it ourselves.  We can stop relying on the state to protect our interests.  We can stop calling the police.  We can stop shopping at the Wal-Mart.  We can stop expecting anomic society to take care of our problems.  We can take responsibility for our own needs.  It doesn’t matter how horrible, how corrupt, how oppressive these institutions become if we deny them legitimacy and reject their attempts to shape our lives.  They need US, not the other way around.

We don’t have to participate in systems that oppress us or others.  We don’t have to be complicit in the state’s oppression of its enemies.  We can choose and build our communities for ourselves.  We can think critically about our actions and listen to those who are harmed by them, even in steps of the process that seem beyond our control.  We can make slave labor, deforestation, pollution, and factory farming unprofitable for businesses by refusing to profit by them ourselves.

We can vote with our dollars for the future we want.  We can support local businesses run by our neighbors and friends.  We can see our supply chains and improve them.  We can offer help to people who are struggling instead of reporting them to the authorities.  We can share our resources with those in need instead of expecting the state to feed, clothe, and house them.  We can clean it up ourselves instead of filing a complaint about litter.  We can leverage our privilege to protect marginalized people.  We can protect each other and set expectations for our communities instead of relying on the police to enforce the state’s rules.  We can learn to make things ourselves.  We can grow our own food, or join CSAs.  We can buy things from independent artisans instead of faceless factories.  We can get together with our neighbors to do hard things together.  We can raise barns and put up jam and bring homemade bread and soup to the old lady next door who has trouble walking.  We can start a childcare co-op, or shop at the farmer’s market, or learn to sew our own clothes.  We can choose a midwife instead of submitting to industrial medicine.  We can learn about the natural world around us and work with it instead of destroying it.  We can buy good things, made with love and designed to work well, and maintain them.  We can mend things that break.

We can be proactive and make a better future for everyone.  We don’t have to accept the options the state-industrial complex offers us, and we don’t have to chase the 1%’s definition of success.  We can make our own society.

And together, if we all work on those two things– love and independence– we will be unstoppable.  Whether you can only participate in little ways, or you have the resources to make big changes, everything will make a difference.

I’m not saying that the dark forces at work in our world won’t matter or won’t be able to harm people, but we don’t have to sit back and let them take over.  We can both choose not to be bullies ourselves AND not to allow bullying around us.  We don’t have to give up ground.  We don’t have to stop pushing forward.  We can still make progress if we all work together.

We can find the way forward– or make a new one for ourselves– if we can all practice love and seek independence.

That’s what I think, anyway.

With love and gratitude for all of you,

Elizabeth

On America and Greatness

I don’t think it’s a secret that I love living here, that this is my home.

But I cringe when I hear politicians talk about America and greatness.  No matter who, and no matter how– whether it’s President Obama describing the things that make America great in a State of the Union, the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” swag, or Hillary Clinton stumping about how America is already great.

I wonder if they really believe what they’re saying, or if they just know that it polls well.  I wonder if they’ve ever really thought about it, or researched it, this idea of America being somehow superior among nation-states.  I especially wonder about Obama, the black child of a white single mother, and Clinton, the civil rights activist and feminist icon– do they have to train themselves out of looking contemptuous when they spout these phrases?

I mean, surely they know.  They have marginalized identities, they are well-educated, they are politically left of center.  Surely they can see the opressions and injustices of the past and present– the racial warfare that accompanied the birth of the nation, as transatlantic slave labor created mercantile prosperity and westward expansion was synonymous with Amerindian holocaust; the toxic patriarchal agenda that permeates all levels and ages of American history, erasing the accomplishments of historical women and constraining modern femmefolk to a life of second-class possibilities; the racial, sexual, orientational, and gender-based disparities that have followed US society into the 21st century.

America isn’t great.

It has never been great.

Not for everyone.

In fact, America as a society has only ever served the needs of a small minority of the population.  Perhaps it was, or even is, great for them, I wouldn’t know– at no time in history has there been an iteration of the US in which I would be in that minority.

The American Dream– come here, work hard, and by dint of your effort alone become rich and well-respected– is a myth.  It’s a convenient fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy, designed to discourage lower-class rebellion in a cultural context where Calvinist predestination remains highly relevant and wealth disparity is stark and endemic.

There have always been a few people living the gilded life while many starve and freeze and even more hustle and graft to support them.

That, to me, doesn’t fit the definition of greatness.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to somehow magically exclude from consideration that the prosperity of the US came through the blood of chattel slaves, over the bodies of slain indigenous people, and in the ruthless industrial consumption of children, elderly widows, and vulnerable immigrants.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to forget that nearly every major liberal victory in its history was a case of America being late to the party, an embarrassing truth in the face of a pervasive narrative about America the great Enlightenment political experiment, especially as the US remains behind the curve today.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to quietly pretend that its status as the sole superpower was somehow more related to its inherent superiority, or at least to the deliberate actions of its leaders, than it is to the confluence of greed, indescriminate slaughter, and simple accident.

America isn’t great.  Has never been.

No amount of firecrackers and political rallies could change that.

America could be great someday.  Maybe it’s even on the path to greatness now.  But ahistorical national pride won’t bridge the gap.

Let’s have bold, critical conversations about the American state instead.  Let’s talk, not about how great America is, but about how great it could be if we perservere.  Let’s talk about how to make America great, how to honor the promises of the liberal principles and founding narratives we hold dear.

Let’s talk about how to create liberty and justice for all.  What it means for Lady Liberty to lift her lamp beside the golden door.  What we can do now in order to form a more perfect union.  How we can come together, and be one out of many.

All that starts with saying, out loud, in your biggest speech of the year, on your bumper stickers, and in your stump speeches, that America isn’t great– yet.  That America continues to fail the poor, the elderly, people of color, immigrants, queer people, women, and the differently-abled.  That America cannot be great when there are still children facing hunger, women tasked with preventing their own rapes, communities fighting the extinction of their cultural identity, cities bereft of safe drinking water, families unable to make the best choices for their children, people who don’t have enough of what they need to thrive.

A nation is its people.  America won’t be great, can’t be great, until each and every American has the resources and support they need to live a great life.

And on that day, I will fly the flag and be proud to be an American.

Because on that day, America will be great.

No

I can’t write about knitting or sewing this week.

I can’t.

Too much has happened to me this week.  There’s too much anger and sadness in me to compose a few blithe paragraphs about handwork right now.

I want to share with you what’s on my mind instead of what’s in my work bag today.

Today is the first day after the heat wave here on the west coast.  I know that the majority of media sources in this country have just started to cover the record-breaking heat, because, as with most things, if it doesn’t happen at least as far east as Chicago, it might as well have happened in another country.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living on the frontier.  I love standing knee-deep in the Pacific, looking west, and feeling the wilderness around me.

But I didn’t hear about the oil train derailment that happened a scant 10 miles from my house for hours after the fact, and even then it was only because I went to a local news website trying to figure out why there was so much traffic stacked up on highway 30.

We were so very lucky in Mosier.  If the train had crashed the day before, the winds would have made the fire worse by orders of magnitude.  If the explosion or fire had been bigger, Mosier would have lost a school, homes, lives.  If it had been raining, which it frequently does in early June, there would have been no way to mitigate the spill of oil into the Columbia.  If the derailment had happened 10 miles further west, it might have taken out a freeway overpass, a number of local businesses, or even my house.

My house.  Where my children live.

I’ve been fighting against the bomb trains for years.  And this one nearly got me.

By contrast, I was quite physically safe from the Stanford rapist.  But as I read the victim’s statement and the letter the rapist’s father wrote to the judge, I wept the angry, familiar tears of someone who has lived her whole life embroiled with rape culture.

I remembered the first time I was sexually harassed– in line at the drinking fountain, in kindergarten, age 5– and I remembered how embarrassed I felt.  How I stood there stupidly and let him keep touching me even though my stomach was knotting up and my legs wanted to run.  How the words he said were permanently etched into my psyche.  How I never told anyone.  How I felt ashamed by the incident, like it was my fault.

The little boy who groped me and made sexual comments about my prepubescent body probably doesn’t even remember that it happened.

I remember him, though.  I remember his name, his face, his hair cut, even though we moved across the state the summer after I finished first grade and I haven’t seen him since.  And when I hear about men who are so assured of their right to touch women, who feel as entitled to their sexual attentions as the Stanford rapist obviously does, I think about that boy and I wonder if he ever learned about consent.  If he became the kind of guy who tells rape jokes and makes his sexual partners feel obligated to engage in acts they don’t enjoy.  If he went on to rape someone at a frat party in college.  If he became one of the relatively few men who are serial rapists– how many victims would he have by now, at nearly 30 years old?

I think it’s that survivor’s sensitivity that made me uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders from the beginning.  I wanted to like him.  I bought into the hype of his being a challenger from Clinton’s left who would force her left during the primary at least.  But then, I watched him debate with her.  I heard the dogwhistles when he accused her of “yelling”, tried to paint her as manipulative and dishonest, insinuated that she could be bought.  I read the things he wrote about women and sexual relations when he was younger.  I watched him treat his wife with incredible disrespect onstage at a public event.  I heard the contempt in his voice when dealing with female reporters.  I heard him insist that people who didn’t support him didn’t know their own best interests.  I watched his campaign double down on the idea that supporting Clinton because she’s a woman is stupid, wrong, even traitorous.

I watched him lie and cheat and steal and take no responsibility.  I watched him blame everyone else for his problems.  I watched him allow his supporters to run wild, threatening women and disrupting events.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Because women’s rights are human rights.  Because she listens to people and genuinely cares about them.  Because she plays by the rules.  Because she cares about indigenous people’s issues.  Because she has been a tireless advocate for the rights of children and women for her entire life.  Because she’s always been ahead of the curve on LGBT issues.  Because her staff is diverse and well-trained and highly skilled.  Because she admits it and apologizes when she is wrong.  Because she says the word “abortion”.

Last night Clinton became the presumptive nominee.  The first female major party nominee ever.  EVER.  I watched her speech.  I watched the commemorative video.  I cried.  I was so proud to have been part of getting her this far.  I was so excited for the general election.

This morning I read the news and learned that at his event last night, Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly claimed that he’s an advocate for women, allowed 15 seconds of booing and hissing directed towards Hillary Clinton, the nominee of his party and the first woman EVER to be a major party nominee for president.  He didn’t even recognize the glass ceiling she shattered this week.

I realized that he doesn’t see her.  He doesn’t see women.  He doesn’t see ME.

And I’ve had about enough of being trivialized and ignored.  I’m done being relegated to the sidelines.

I have no more patience for those who marginalize me, be they east-coast-centered mainstream news sources, legislators who insist that shipping oil by rail is safe, teary-eyed rapists who think they’ve done nothing wrong, or political candidates who think it’s irrelevant whether they actually have a good record on women’s issues or just say they do in interviews.

My life is too wild and precious to spend it legitimizing all this bullshit.

So I am renewing my declaration of war against the patriarchy this summer.

gracedchin / Via etsy.com

And that is the work I have in progress this week.

 

 

Primary Day

I think the results of today’s primary voting here in Oregon are a foregone conclusion.  Donald Trump is the only remaining candidate for the Republican nomination, so he will win 70-90% of the Republican vote.  The Democratic race will be fairly evenly split between Clinton and Sanders, with a lot of rural counties strongly preferring Sanders and the most racially diverse counties strongly preferring Clinton.

But I’m still freaking out about it.

I doubt I’m alone in that.

All through this primary season, the smalls and I have been watching the returns come in on Huffington Post.  We’ve talked about delegates and superdelegates and proportional awards and caucuses and polling data.

We’ve seen the signs and bumper stickers around town and cheered or jeered or rolled our eyes according to our preferences.  I’ve bitten my lower lip bloody driving down I-84 and seeing the balance of the signage on our county measure.

We’ve watched the debates and paused them to debrief.  We’ve clicked through candidate websites and read articles together and done deep research.

When I filled out my ballot, Númenor and Ithilien sat next to me at the dining room table and drew up their own construction-paper ballots with their own circles to fill in as we read the voter’s pamphlet together and talked about what was important.  How I decide how to vote.  What I look for.

Robert did the same with them the next night.

Tonight is a little different than the rest of the returns we’ve watched.  Tonight the results are about us, our neighbors, our family– what we think, what we believe, where we live.

So we will watch along, as usual, but this time with popcorn and while running the Blackadder episode about rotten boroughs.  Just to keep it in perspective, you know.

In case things don’t go the way we want them to go.

In case things get scary.

So we remember that it’s a show.  That it’s rigged against us, against people like us, against young families all over the country.

But we are doing our part, what we can do.  We are voting our minds and talking about serious things with friends and family and raising little citizens who will hopefully grow up to be involved, conscientious voters like us.

And sometimes, if everyone does the right thing, that’s enough to make a difference in the system.

I guess we’ll see what happens.

On the Frontier

I remarked to Robert this week that Oregon will always be the frontier of America– wild, lawless, not quite part of the Union and not quite foreign, where cultures collide and there’s still far more natural than human on the horizon.

That Oregon is a refuge of weirdness is well-known.  There’s a whole television show about the quirkiness of Portland, which, believe it or not, is the actually the most Americanized, most assimilated place out here.  In the small towns, composed of farmers, ranchers, fruit-pickers, teachers, nurses, midwives, distillers, and store clerks, things are downright eccentric.

People are a little bit skeptical of strangers, like in all small towns, but they make an effort to be friendly.  When you are introduced to someone, you lean far, far out of your personal space, feet firmly planted, to extend an overbalanced handshake.  When you greet a friend, you raise your left hand and hug them across the shoulder blades from your right side, and the pair of you briefly create two cache-coeurs around each other with your arms.

We celebrate weird, here.

We go to the drive-in, and we shop at the farmer’s market.  We have a parade to celebrate flowers, and we drive 50 miles on the freeway as if it’s nothing.  We walk home in the rain and we travel to seek out snow and surf.  We know that the best watermelons come from Hermiston and the best strawberries from Hood River.  We watch the fields stream by out of the windows of cars and trains and buses and we know: that’s barley, that’s hops, that’s rye, that’s cabbage, that’s grapes, that’s green beans.  We speak Spanish and Chinook jargon and French.  We chop wood and haul wood and mill wood and burn wood and plant saplings and listen to the forest sighing in the wind and count the rings on our Christmas trees and always seem to have some pitch on our hands.  We are Facebook fans of that hideous airport carpet, that, ugly as it is, means “home.”  We vote by mail to protect the salmon, and we hold nothing more sacred than our own self-determination.

I’ve lived all over this state, and traveled even more of it.  I’ve tracked deer in the Wallowas, I’ve boogie boarded in Pacific City, and I’ve stared up at the stars on the Nevada border.  I know the sharp smell of an approaching thunderstorm in the high desert, and the gentle susurration of ocean waves on a sunny afternoon, and the chill of dew on prairie grass under my bare feet.

And I can’t imagine raising my children anywhere else.

Today is the third anniversary of the day we bought our plane tickets home.  My eyes sting with tears as I think about that– how long it’s been, how we’re starting to take Oregon for granted again, how Númenor and Ithilien don’t really remember living anywhere else.

The fact is, back east was too much for us.  Too much in our business.  Too much snow.  Too much traffic.  Too much crowding.  Too much America.  Too much pollution.  Too much conformity.  Too much erosion of the mountains.  Too much lime in the drinking water.  Too much fuss to vote.  Too much fear.  Too much civilization.

When I stepped off that plane and saw that hideous windmill carpet in PDX, I could breathe again.  As we drove through rainy, nighttime Portland, trying to find the food we’d promised our beleaguered toddlers who had just endured a three-layover cross-country flight, it all came back to me.  How to navigate Portland, and that we should be looking for a Plaid Pantry, and what it felt like to know you belonged somewhere.

The state of Oregon will be turning 147 years old this month.  But somehow, it still feels like a territory.  It’s a place of changes and contradictions and clashing cultures and weirdness, where the rules don’t fully apply.  And it is my home.

So thank you, Oregon, for flying with your own wings.  And thank you, fellow Oregonians, for keeping this place a weird and wild exception to the rules.

Life on the frontier is a perfect fit for me.

Death, Germs, and Darkness

Ithilien is a worrier.

Oh, this child of mine, how he worries!  He always has.  I remember holding him at the counter of a fast food restaurant when he was a little baby of perhaps 5 months, and when the soda fountain made that grr-I’m-grinding-ice noise, he went rigid, hyperventilated, and burst into tears.

In those early days, it was easy to brush off that he was scared.  Babies are always scared when they’re alone, or when unexpected things happen, because it’s how they stay alive.  It wasn’t remarkable that he was afraid of loud noises or panicked and couldn’t catch his breath when the wind blew on his face or was so terrified of being separated from me that he reacted to strangers the way most movie characters react to their first zombie.

As he got older, the worries didn’t fade.  He’s still scared of thunder and cars back-firing.  He can’t stand the way deep pipe organ notes resonate in the floor.  He doesn’t like to meet new people, and he doesn’t like loud parties.  He’s afraid of big dogs, and nervous about going over bridges, and says he hates his brain for making up monsters in the dark.  He worries about Robert and whether he is safe during the workday and whether he will ever come home.  He worries that the baby will die.  He still ends up in my bed every night, terrified and shaking, begging for protection from things unnamed and imaginary.

Normal childhood stuff, right?  Lots of five-year-olds are afraid of the dark or a bit shy, and nighttime magnifies everyone‘s anxieties.

But this week was a departure from that.

This week, he has whined, cried, and begged for protection for hours of the day, every day.  He says he’s scared.  That he doesn’t want to die.  That he hates that germs exist.  That he doesn’t want germs to destroy his body.

Let me be clear: the kid isn’t even sick.  I have told him, countless times, that he will probably live another 70 or 80 years.  That his body is strong and his immune system works hard all the time to protect him– that’s one of the Big Lessons.  That if germs were destroying his body, we would get him help, because he is our baby and we love him.

No dice.  Still scared.

Today, when he had literally been whining and crying pathetically in my lap for four whole hours and I was just trying to get something done, I lost my temper and yelled.

“Please, just STOP WHINING!”

And he wept.  He hugged himself in his blanket and trembled, crying softly, while I rushed to apologize and reassure him that he was acceptable, and his feelings were acceptable, and I was wrong to yell at him, and he was safe with me.

He forgave me and let me pick him up, and we rocked and talked about his feelings, and then he fell asleep, worn out from a long day of emotional turmoil.

I kept rocking him, and I took up the mantle of worry for myself.

Is he okay?  Should we take him to a therapist?  What if he’s really sick?  What if he has a crippling anxiety disorder that can only be managed with medication?  Did I do this to him by yelling?  Is this what happens when children grow up with depressed and anxious parents?  Am I breaking him?  Am I bad?

Then I looked down into his face, all long lashes and beautiful pink mouth and enviably perfect skin, and saw total peace and trust.

I thought about a conversation Robert and I had about Ithilien a few weeks ago.  We had talked about how he was like one of the fairies from Peter Pan– so small that he can only feel one thing at a time, but whatever he feels, he feels it completely.

I remembered that this was the kid who was always afraid of ice makers and unable to cope with wind, but that he was also the baby who smiled so big and wide that it seemed the top of his head would fall right off.

He’s the one who needs light and company to feel safe enough to sleep, but also the one who totally loses himself in giggling.

He’s the one who can’t go upstairs alone without turning on every light, but also the one who seems completely fulfilled by art-as-process, who never worries about the product.

He’s the one who goes from apoplectic anger to complete delight in three syllables.

He’s the one who worries about things that may not happen for a century to come, but he’s also the one who has been making new Christmas decorations since March.

He’s the one who trembles with fear when I lose myself and yell, but he’s also the one who tells me “I just can not stop loving dyu because dyu is my mommy and dyu take care of me.”

He’s the one who has spent the past three days in the depths of a depression about the inevitability of his own death and the specter of disease, but he’s also the one who wants to build a workshop for teaching his unborn baby sibling to be an expert holiday decorator and trick-or-treater.

Maybe he’s not broken.  Maybe his feelings are just so big, so perfect, so beautifully whole that they overwhelm him.  Maybe he feels more, and deeper, than I could ever imagine.  Maybe it’s a kind of blessing, and not just a curse, to be wired the way he is.

Maybe he is just furiously happy, too.

Salt is a Miracle

Yesterday I went on a major cleaning binge.

I suspect that this is one of the MANY ways that I am broken, but I have never in my life been able to clean sensibly, on a schedule, as part of a routine.  I know that Ma Ingalls did, but I just. cannot.  Instead, I clean in compulsive spurts that snowball from “doing the dishes” to “cleaning the whole kitchen on hands-and-knees, including scrubbing leftover sticker residue off the fridge and wiping the grime behind the stove knobs away.”

You know, because as long as you have the vinegar out, why the hell wouldn’t you just wipe that door frame off really quick?  And as long as you have a rag in your hand already, you’d be crazy NOT to use up its last clean surface wiping tomato sauce off the stove top, right?

This is the way it goes for me, especially when I’m nesting, and then suddenly I look up and realize that it’s been two hours and I really wanted to work on the mittens I’m knitting for the baby today.

I had one of these cleaning binges yesterday.

And, as part of it, I started boiling down the salt water we brought home from the beach on my birthday weekend.

As I poured what looked like regular, slightly sandy water into my biggest pot and started it cooking, it suddenly occurred to me what an act of faith it is to make salt.

Think about this.

To make salt, we take water, pretty much indistinguishable from the everyday stuff that we are blessed to have running in our taps courtesy of the city infrastructure, and treat it with deep reverence, and we are rewarded with a magical transformation.

Robert wades chest-deep into the freezing northern Pacific to collect our seawater.  We haul it home in the trunk of our car, carefully sealed up in food-safe buckets.  We schlep those heavy buckets up the stairs to our house.  We hoist them onto the kitchen counter, inevitably covering it with sand.  We gingerly transfer just the right volume to the pot– just enough to completely cover the rivets securing the handles– and then?

Then we crank the gas up all the way and set it to a rolling boil, filling the house with steam and warmth (not a bad thing on a chilly October morning, but torture in July), and we wait.

For hours, over the course of days.

Boiling and boiling away.

And we have faith that we’re not just wasting our time.  Because contrary to all appearances, we know that somewhere in that normal-looking water is enough dissolved salt to run our household– preserving pickles and accenting crackers and getting used at every meal by the pinch and the spoonful– for several months.

Now, I have studied chemistry at the advanced college level, folks.  I am perfectly well aware that the salt is in there and that boiling will separate it from the water.

But I also know that the concentration of seawater varies greatly based on several factors totally or somewhat out of my control and observance, like how recently it’s rained, the tide, the temperature of the air, the humidity, and the proximity of freshwater deltas.

So I can’t say that I’m not always a little relieved– even a little amazed– when the time comes for the finishing pans to come out of the oven and they are positively encrusted with those sparkling white pyramidal crystals.

It’s wondrous.

And just a little bit miraculous.

WIP Wednesday

natural linen baby tunics piled up waiting for elasticstart date: 20 September 2015
time elapsed: 3 days
completeness: 98%

Among knitters, there’s a term for starting one project immediately after the end of the last one.  It’s called “binding off to cast on”.  That’s what my life has been like for the past several weeks as I look at the calendar and the nesting list and start to feel a little wave of panic rising in my chest.

I finished Númenor’s coat late one night, and cut out pieces of these shirts the next day.  I finished the last shirt this afternoon, and cut pieces for Númenor’s hoodie before dinner.  Back to back to back to back.

natural linen baby tunic in progress with sewing tools

In the pro column, I sure am productive these days!  In the con column, I’m feeling the strain.  And somehow every Wednesday seems to find me actively binding off to cast on, and therefore not really having a WIP to post about.  (Un)luckily, I have also outstripped my own ability to stock supplies, so I get to share these sweet little tunics while I wait for the elastic I need to finish them off.

Having had a springtime homecoming with Númenor (he was born in the winter but, as a preemie, didn’t leave the NICU until spring), most of our basics are for warmer-weather babies, and these will bridge the gap by providing an insulating underlayer for t-shirts and vests and sundresses and pinafores.

I’ve really enjoyed feeling the crisp linen in my hands as I worked.  There’s something about that fiber, especially in this undyed, unbleached state, that is ponderous with tradition, that hearkens back to earlier times and simpler needs and brings the primacy of preparing for a new baby into sharp relief.

sewing tools in the windowsill at sunset

I could have just three months left now before the baby comes.  And there are still a lot of things that must be done, which is a strange phenomenon when little babies (especially those with older siblings) have such basic needs.

Maybe it’s the basic-ness of the needs that I find so worrying: what if the baby isn’t warm enough, clean enough, dry enough, safe enough, snuggled enough, welcomed enough?

Maybe that’s why my head is so full of bees trying to ensure that everything is ready: while the baby’s needs are simple and few, they are critical.

pieces of new DIY hoodie piled up and ready for assembling/sewing to start

I’m trying to remember that just because it’s critical that the baby is warm doesn’t mean that it’s critical that I finish any particular blanket or piece of clothing.  We have plenty of warmth here already in hugs, and blankets, and a busy kitchen.  We have plenty of cleanliness, too, and, perhaps more importantly, not too much, either.  We have ways to get dry, even if I never re-hem that new hooded towel.  We are safe.  We can snuggle.

And I don’t think I’ve ever truly doubted that we would welcome this new life among us.


 

The fabric in the shirts is an unbleached handkerchief-weight linen I was given as a gift; if you’re looking for something similar, try this.  The pattern is a long-sleeved, tunic-length adaptation of Abby’s infant peasant dress, which I highly recommend, although I can’t speak to the construction tutorial because I’ve used my own techniques.  I have attached the sleeves to the bodice with a French seam and the sides are Elizabethan seams, for maximum durability.  The gray fabric in the pile at Ithilien’s feet is a seconds-quality cut of a long-discontinued organic sweatshirt knit from Organic Cotton Plus.  If you’re looking for something similar, try this.

Furiously Happy

I was immensely lucky and won a signed advance copy of The Bloggess’ new book a few weeks ago.

I devoured it, the way middle school English teachers who haven’t quite had all the passion beaten out of them by the system tell you to devour poems: with your senses, your heart, your imagination, and then finally your brain.

I laughed and cried and was angry and relieved and even though Jenny and I have very little in common, I saw myself in every story. Because I am broken. I am anxious and depressed and have panic attacks and PTSD flashbacks and spend most of my life trying to avoid strangers and the unknown.

But I have also come to realize in recent years that my brokenness is part of my beauty.

There’s a Japanese pottery tradition, kintsugi, in which a broken vessel is repaired with gold dust resin, making the finished article more precious than it was before it broke.

That is where I find myself. My parts are fitted to each other with golden joinery, showing forever where I have broken, but reclaiming the shards as evidence of a transformation rather than as scattered debris of violence.

 

I’m broken because I have lost, because I have been attacked, because I was under too much pressure.

I’m furiously happy because I create, because I surround myself with people who cherish me, because I have learned to seek relief.

And I am not alone in my beautiful brokenness.  There are a lot of us out there who shattered, who now live with gold dust in our cracks, making them shine out in the half-light.

We can’t hide our brokenness, but that’s okay.  Having broken makes us human.  We mend ourselves with show and with beauty, and we are all the more precious in the end.

Looking for Bats

If you’ve been following the weather news in the US this summer, you know that we’re having a strange year in the PNW.

Let me tell you what it looks like out here in Hood River:

Cicadas and katydids everywhere, but no grasshoppers or praying mantids.

No frogs, no salamanders, and the lowest water levels I’ve ever seen.

Hot, hot, hot, and as dry as old bleached bones.

Early pears and late tomatoes.

Eight solid inches of dry, shifting dust before my trowel turns up fertile soil.

Forest fires and droughts and worry, worry, worry.

Spiders EVERYWHERE, people.  EVERYTHING IS SPIDERS.

Blond freeway shoulders and crispy tree branches.

Algal blooms in lakes and even in the sluggish parts of the mighty Columbia.

Last month’s fire-blackened hills, still dark and barren and dry nearly six weeks later.

The mountains bare-faced and black on the horizon, ominous and brooding.

In short, it’s been a year for making sure that small children know the emergency preparedness plan, and scratching out anxious lists of evacuation supplies, and conserving every drop of water, and looking out of car windows and wondering how our beautiful home will survive this.

My touchstone through this trying season has been putting our flock away for the night.  In the cool breeze of dusk, I slip my feet into a pair of Robert’s old shoes, comically large on me, fill a quart jar nearly to the top with sweet-smelling scratch, and climb the terrace steps to the chicken yard.

I listen to the crickets and the calling of the poorwills and the nighthawks, I smell the neighbors’ barbeque cooking away, and I fill the hopper for the hens, who add their gentle berka-berka-berka chattering to the vespers.  I refill their water bottle, the cool liquid on my fingertips nearly salvation after a day of pseudo-desert living, and slot it back into place.  “Goodnight, chickens.” I murmur as I secure the henhouse roof, completing my task.

I put away the jar and the shoes in the sunroom, and as I walk barefoot across the deck to go back into the house, I stop and rest for a moment on the bench.  Often one or both of the smalls will join me, and we keep a steadfast vigil on the little patch of twilight sky to the northeast, over the confluence of the Hood and Columbia rivers, with its little border of aspen and pine.

Breathless and silent in the fading light, we wait.

Every night I wonder if they won’t come, if something has happened and they’re all dead somewhere or fleeing to better hunting grounds.  But every night, they come.

Fluttering across the clearing so fast our limited human eyes can barely see them against the darkening sky, the bats make their first forays into the night air.  They are most likely long-legged myotis bats, we have learned, this swift-winged vanguard of the night, but it doesn’t really matter what kind they are.  What matters is that they’re there.

Every night, without fail, the bats come out to feast on the crepuscular insects and spiders that have overwhelmed us this summer.  Even though these temperate bats are sensitive to human disturbance, and rely heavily on imperiled forest habitat and fleeting, drought-banished dew to survive, they have never failed me.

The piping voices of the tree frogs may be silent this year, and the afternoon frighteningly devoid of the chipping whir of grasshopper flight, but the bats are still here, and doing fine.

And, as I wait for rains that may never come, or may totally overwhelm the parched soil and wash away houses, bridges, cars, and human lives into the rapids, the bats bring me some fragile reassurance.

I look up, with faith and trembling, and when I see those tenacious flying mammals racing silently and chaotically through the dusky sky, I know that I am seeing part of that wild invisible web that sustains our fragile lives on this planet.  I know that I am watching nature take one of her courses, albeit a tiny one, and I feel a corresponding, wicked-winged speck of hope flash across the clearing of my heart.

Because maybe, just maybe, if the bats can make it, there’s some hope for the rest of us, though we are truly grounded and insensate by comparison.

And that is why I take time out of my busy day and away from my life of artifice to look for the bats.

What do you look for, to give you hope in these dark days?