Tag Archives: sincerity


“Mommy, is you going to snuggle us’s new baby?”

Ithilien is always insistent about having real and prompt answers to his questions, so of course I say yes.  But he has more to say:

“Babies need thems mommies to snuggle them and give them milk or they die.”

Oversimplified, but true enough for mammals.  I tell Ithilien about the wonders of lactation– breast milk is full of antibodies, and even stem cells, and babies get everything they need from it.  We talk about how fragile babies are when they are still growing inside of somebody else, how the directions for building them that they carry inside their cells can be wrong or broken or missing steps, how teeny-tiny and tenuous that new life really is.

And every time Ithilien wants to talk about it, I have to face the hard realities that expectant parents try to ignore: that miscarriage is common, that stillbirth happens, that prematurity is surmountable but damaging, that sometimes there’s no good reason for a child to die or a pregnancy to end but it happens anyway.

I try to take a moment to really feel the powerlessness and the fear during these conversations, no matter how strongly I want to deny it and how harshly I want to reject the possibility that the child I carry now could come to harm.

Because I know that it’s possible.  I have walked that road before, and as distant as its horrors may seem when I’m ankle-deep in splashed-out bathwater and contemplating walls that have been fingerpainted with tomato sauce, I will never be able to forget.

So, as I knit and sew and write and organize in preparation for this new baby, I do so with the understanding that hit might never wear these tiny clothes or be wrapped in this beautiful blanket.  I watch the clean, pure wood emerging under Robert’s knife, and I envision the crib he’s building, and then I picture packing the crib away, still unused, and being too worn out by my grief to even summon tears.

Sometimes I have to put an overwhelming amount of effort into remembering that the most likely thing that will happen is that I will give birth to a living and healthy tiny human this winter.  I reassure myself daily that pregnancy loss after this point is extremely rare, that stillbirth and perinatal death and neonatal death are all unlikely, that infant death is not commonplace in my society.  I try to believe, to truly expect.

It’s not easy to have hope when you have known utter despair.

But I am trying.  Some days it feels like I’m tricking myself into thinking we’ll have a new baby, artlessly attempting to hide the inevitability of my bereavement.  Some days it feels like part of me does expect a new baby, and the rest of me holds that naive part in simultaneous awe and contempt.  And some days, some precious days, some few precious days, I really feel myself to be an expectant mother.

Those are the good days.  Days when the baby is kicking and rolling and generally making hits presence felt, and I’m just sick enough to believe that I’m pregnant without being miserable, and Númenor and Ithilien say sweet things about their plans for being big siblings and ask to put their heads on my belly to talk to the baby.

“Hi, baby.”  That’s how Númenor starts all of these conversations, which can, depending on his mood, be quite long and wide-ranging.

“I love dyu, baby.”  That’s all Ithilien ever seems moved to say.

And that’s perfect.

Because, thankfully, babies don’t expect you to have all your shit figured out and your baggage neatly unpacked through years of psychoanalysis and personal growth.  They aren’t born demanding quarterly statements for your investment account or even the car keys, although I understand that does come up eventually.  They don’t care about whether you finished all the projects on your nesting list or why you’re moved to tears to see their tiny squinting faces.

They don’t need anything but love.

And snuggling.

And milk.

And those are things I am totally comfortable holding in expectation.


Sometimes, as parents, we get swept up in the day-to-day struggle of life with bills, and work, and rainstorms, and living with small humans both unpredictable and strange.  We get overwhelmed.  We put all our spoons into just getting through the day without major incident, and are glad when it’s over.

Sometimes, you start the same simple project over and over again– you mistake navy thread for black and don’t catch it until the seam is nearly finished, you try to sew a French seam with the right sides facing out of habit, you make a measuring error– and suddenly, what was supposed to be so easy is impossible.

And invariably, while you are in the depths of this everyday depression, your irrepressible little children will ask to do something outrageous.  Something involving paint, and limited supplies, and relying on the inconstant spring weather to stay clear for a few more hours.

And, for reasons you don’t totally understand, you might say yes.

wooden dragon toys painted by my children

Yes to the mess.

Yes to the chaos.

Yes to the inevitable bath that will have to follow.

Yes to the memories that you are making.

Yes to the mini-lesson on secondary colors, and the demonstration of printing with the cardboard palettes you improvised.

cardboard with pools of paint after being used as a palette side-by-side with the print made from the palette at the end of the session

Yes to the seemingly thousands of trips to the bathroom sink to wash a brush so you can use another color.

Yes to scrubbing paint off the deck afterward, and leaving a weird clean spot in years of dust because seriously, who washes their deck?

my toes on an awkwardly clean section of deck after I scrubbed it

Yes to the children, who are so much work and so very worth it.

Yes to being the kind of parent who is okay with supervising painting projects, even on a difficult Tuesday you wish was going better.

And then, against all the odds and absolutely all reason, you find your kairos moment for the day.  In the paint.  And the mess.  And the nuturing of small souls.

And you decide to say yes more often.

Ithilien hacking at a piece of ice with a garden trowel

Even on hard days.

But We Don’t Have to Change at All

(TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of body hatred and self-harm.)

Until very recently, I hadn’t made myself any clothing in years.  Part of that was a scheduling issue– I had tiny babies who were always outgrowing their things and then active toddlers who always needed new shoes and new patches on their pants– but mostly it was a self-love issue.

I’ve never loved my body.  Not ever.  My earliest memories related to my own physicality are about feeling awkward, being too big, too fat, taking up too much space for a girl.  I was too tall, my feet were too big, my hands weren’t dainty enough.  I spent years outright hating my body, wishing I could afford to have it surgically mutilated into a more socially-acceptable shape and size.  I didn’t always wash my hands before eating when I was a teenager because I was hoping I would get a tapeworm.  In college I wished I would get mono or even tuberculosis.  I had a persistent fantasy as a young adult about literally carving away the parts of myself society deemed excessive with a kitchen knife, and how much more attractive I would be afterward, even if I could never show my skin.

And I was punishing myself whenever I acquired new clothes.  I was buying cheap synthetic crap for myself at enormous retail markup (even though I worked hard to never pay full price) and I was stuffing myself into too-tight, too-short, and poorly-designed clothes that pinched my arms and gaped over my belly when I moved and simply didn’t work over my breasts.  Worst of all, I didn’t feel entitled to complain about it, because I had internalized the notion that the clothes were intrinsically, even morally,  correct, and my body should change to accommodate them.  I wore the angry red welts from clothing designed too small as a mark of shame.

I wish I could say that I had an awakening and decided that my body was worthy of love, but actually it was my penny-pinching that saved me.  I decided that commercially produced clothing was a waste of money.  I stopped buying new clothes.  What clothing I had continued to decay in the way that fast-fashion does: ripped seams, patches where the elastic snapped out and the fabric became translucent, runs and pinholes, pilling.  It was amazing and disheartening how quickly my gorgeous new favorite top became pajama-quality, and then finally a rag, as the shoddy workmanship and poor materials took their toll on something that, I finally realized, was only designed to look good long enough to sell, and had never been made for a body like mine, regardless of what it said on the size tag.

One day, when Númenor was recently home from the NICU and having trouble gaining weight, and I was snuggling him, dressed in my appallingly ratty pajamas, we were listening to a song from “Free to Be…You and Me” called “When We Grow Up”, and it all came together.

Yes, I thought.  My 10-pound former micro-preemie is nice small.  And I don’t have to change at all.  We are both okay, and we are both still growing up, and however we end up, we’ll be okay then, too.  I might be pretty, and he might grow tall, but we don’t have to change at all!  I realized that I deserved to be happy, and deserved to have better clothing, and I became committed to making myself some new things– nice things– that worked for my body and were made from high-quality materials.  I realized that I deserved to take up space.

And that’s why, as I mentioned, I’m currently in the middle of a big infusion of new, homemade things into my own wardrobe.

So far this year, I’ve made two tops, a skirt, pajama pants, and a shawl, and none of them is quite perfect, but they were all faster to make than waiting for shipping on something storebought, which would not be perfect either.

diy draped velvet top

The draped velvet top with the satin sleeves is quite pretty in a Tudor-ish sort of way, and shows off the tattoo on my back.  It’s still a little big, even after I went back and took in all the seams by half an inch.  I might sew up the shoulders a little further yet to make it a bit more modest.

DIY faux cable yoked top

The faux cable velveteen yoked top is actually an adaptation of a top I bought once, and my version is better in every measurable way, except that it’s a little too short.  I’ve been casting around the studio for something to add to the hem to lengthen it, and when I find it, this will be an awesome piece.

DIY victorian style gored satin skirt

The skirt is a Victorian-style gored piece with a flat front and elastic gathering over the back waistband to recall the effect of a bustle.  It’s a little too big in the waist, but otherwise lovely and sweeping and dramatic, just like I wanted.

The pajama pants were quick and easy to sew, but have two major flaws: first, the yoga-style waist isn’t enough to hold them up when I’m active (say, chasing chickens around the yard), and second, the rise isn’t quite enough, which is why they’re in the mending right now and not picture-able– I tore the seam out trying to sit down!

DIY knitted textured shawl

The shawl turned out beautifully– but even after adding another half-skein of the original yarn, I was some 20 stitches short in the bind-off and had to meet the sewn binding I prefer with crochet binding from the other edge, so there’s a little strangeness in the elasticity of the bottom edge.  I was also expecting it to be bigger when I finished blocking it, but not using any lace means that there was less “spring” to it than I anticipated.

None of these pieces is just right– they are all workable, though, and well-made, and will last longer and better than what I could have bought.  They were also an order of magnitude cheaper, since I only had to pay for materials, even though those materials were better quality.

I’m excited for the next elements of the collection– some undergarments, which probably won’t be featured here, and some accessories, which likely will.  There is such pleasure in doing things right, and I am finally coming to accept that my body is worthy of having well-made clothes.  I like what I look like, and I don’t have to change at all.

On Staying Out in the Rain

Chickens are not very sensible animals.  Simple and paranoid in their natural state, the domesticated birds have been bred to be stolid and unconditionally produce a high yield of meat and/or eggs.  The result is an animal whose main mode of interaction with the world is to peck everything on the off-chance that it might be food, and if it isn’t, to peck it again later on the basis that eventually, everything becomes or attracts food.

And they are undeterred by rain.

buff orpington pullet getting rained on and not caring

Even when it’s really cold and there’s not much to be gained by pecking things outside, that’s what chickens want to be doing.  Even when they are bedraggled with mud and soaked through to the skin, they’re like “Whatever.  We’re waterproof.  And we have Things To Peck.”  And they’re right.  They are waterproof.  But an important corollary to being waterproof is remembering to get warm and dry again.

We have, on more than one occasion, opened the henhouse on a drizzly morning on the supposition that the chickens would go back inside and warm up if they got too cold and wet.  This is apparently a bad bet, as our biddies are so single-minded that they will continue the peck-and-peck-again-later routine while soaked, shivering, and sneezing, and then we have to bring them into the bathroom and dry them off before they retire for the evening.

Ameraucana getting toweled off by Númenor

It’s not that our chickens don’t get enough to eat without foraging, and it’s not that they are bored (birds don’t really get bored, it turns out).  They just make bad decisions and sometimes need to be rescued because they are tunnel-vision focused on what’s in front of them.

Sounds familiar, right?

If I’m honest with myself, I feel a bit jealous of the pets and small children I know.  It seems that they always have somebody watching out for them and ready with a towel or a handkerchief when the need arises.  We grown-up humans seem to muddle along as best we can, helping each other when we can spare the attention and feel welcomed to, but mostly just mired in our own problems, pecking and pecking away, oblivious to the risks and recklessly optimistic about the outcome.

Where can we go for help?  Who do we turn to, to nurture and care for us?  If history is any indication, we can’t count on god, the government, or anything we buy.  As frightening as the prospect may seem, we’re stuck with each other: partners, siblings, friends, family, strangers.

One of the skills people often fail to cultivate in our society is asking for help: we are taught that independence is a virtue, that relying on other people is a sign of weakness or an imposition on their time.  So we don’t bring up the child we buried because people don’t know what to say.  We don’t admit that we’re terrified of moving away from the only home we’ve ever known because everyone seems so happy for us.  We don’t talk about the worries and the stresses that keep us up at night because we know they are irrational or can’t be helped.

Sometimes we have to rely on the people we know to see when we’re struggling and offer to help.  Sometimes we are busily pecking away, oblivious to the rain, and need to be rescued from our bad choices.  Sometimes we all need some help getting warm.

ameraucana splash pullet getting dried off with a rag by me

So look out for each other, people.  It is cold and wet out there.

WIP Wednesday

my knitting WIP in my work bagstart date: December 2013
elapsed time: 15 months
progress: 70%

Confession from a creative type:  Sometimes I make something great, but never use it.

This is understandable when something goes wrong on a project, like the gauge is off because I didn’t allow for the effects of stranded colorwork, or I went up a size when I didn’t need to, or I think a material will work, but it doesn’t.  Sometimes a project comes out exactly as planned, but my plans themselves were flawed, say because they didn’t include the fact that children don’t take the care and maintenance of their shoes into consideration when they walk.

But sometimes, everything goes according to plan, the plan was great, and I just don’t love the result.

Last winter I knitted myself a circular shawl.  I was intrigued by the pattern (which goes from a smaller cowl-size circumference on the neck to ample enough to use as a batwing shirt with no increases or decreases), and I needed to do some amending of my wardrobe.  The pattern was easy, my modifications worked as intended, the fit was fine, the yarn was lovely, and still, I just didn’t like the thing.  I didn’t wear it– not even ONCE– in the full cycle of seasons following its completion.

So rather than continuing to feel guilty about it every time I looked in my closet, I made the radical choice to frog it and make something new– something I knew I would use: a big triangular shawl with no lacy holes to let the wind through.

knitting a triangular shawl on a circular needle

And?  I LOVE IT.  Even now, while it’s still on the needles, I know it’s a million times better than the original shawl.

Years ago, when the smalls were babies, I came across a blog post about using your precious things before time destroys them.  It inspires me to this day– to find a way to incorporate my great-grandmother’s silver tea set into my rustic modern life, to risk losing those antique tablecloths by cutting them up and making something my family will actually use, to eat up that last jar of balsamic-pickled figs as a way of making a regular Thursday night special.

I would say that the sentiment applies one thousand fold to things you’ve made.  So what if it took weeks of work?  If you aren’t using it, change it.  Re-make it.  Cut it down for quilt squares.  Felt it and hook a rug.  Whatever it takes.  Going back to fix the mistakes you made or reclaim the materials for something better doesn’t negate the effort you put into the original project– the effort you put into making things is only wasted if that thing is never useful, and a learning experience is always useful.

I had to tell myself this last weekend, when I came to the realization that the rug wasn’t working out.  With every extra row I sewed into place, it became less of a half-circle and more of a third of a circle.  So I cut my threads and ripped my progress back to just a few rows and tried again– a few rows of going around the half-circle shape in a D shape, then a few rows of back-and-forth like I’d tried the first time, over and over.  I’m now almost back to the point I ripped from, and it looks much better.  I’m glad I went back to fix it, even though it meant accepting that it would take much longer to finish and we desperately need that rug.  Choosing to make something– and re-make it– so that it fits your needs perfectly is a radical act in our throw-away culture, where immediate satisfaction is everything and quality rarely even enters the equation.

textured shawl pattern wip slipped stitch yarnover pattern

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, I find that I was my real WIP this week, learning to live with failure and walk with humility.  But the shawl is turning out well, too.

The original pattern for the shawl was Paris Loop by Stefanie Japel.  It really is an easy and satisfying knit, but the FO just didn’t work for me.  I’m now using Orlane’s Textured Shawl Recipe, on an ancient recommendation from Amanda Soule.  The yarn is Ella Rae Mega in Pure Black (it’s actually a subtle heather), which I find EXTREMELY willing to felt and therefore kind of resistant to frogging, but it’s soft and surprisingly strong for a single.


a toddler Ithilien steps outside on a rainy day

One of the first things I noticed when attending college and living outside Oregon for the first time ever in my life was that I had a very different approach to rain than everyone around me had.

In case you don’t know, Oregonians are not bothered by rain.  In other places I understand rain forecasts affect voter turnout and box office sales and stuff, but if people in western Oregon cancelled their plans and stayed in every time there was possible rain in the forecast, we would still be trying to schedule a vote on whether to join the Union.  People go to the zoo in torrential downpours and wait in line outside downtown theaters in moderate rain wearing evening dress.  An umbrella is just another thing to accidentally leave on the MAX, and how are you supposed to use one on a bike?  Sure, you might cover your head if you’ve got a long walk ahead of you, but that’s why you’re wearing a hoodie, obviously.

My East Coast college campus, on the other hand, positively sprouted umbrellas when the sky was overcast, like they were some kind of bizarre poly-nylon mushroom.  I saw grown adults wearing rain boots– the chemical-smelling pull-on rubber things my mother used to buy for my siblings and me at the feed store when we were too young to dress ourselves– at the slightest hint of rain, presumably by choice.  People took dry, folded umbrellas to class and to club meetings, in case it rained on their 5-minute walk back later.  Some particularly deranged individuals even used umbrellas and slickers in the face of fog, snow, and other distinctly not-rain-like forms of dampness.

I told Robert, “It’s like they don’t know that people are waterproof.”

We joked many times over the years we were living in our little Finger Lakes college town– “Well, we’re Oregonian, so we’re waterproof.”

So naturally, when we had tiny, New-York-born toddlers who balked at the rain, we assured them “It’s just rain, and you are waterproof!”

Númenor latched onto the idea of waterproof-ness when he was two, and suddenly he went from asking “What’s that?” to asking “What’s that?  Is it waterproof?”

Yes, we said, you are waterproof.  Ithilien is waterproof.  We are waterproof.  The dog is waterproof.  The trees are waterproof.  The playground is waterproof.  The car is mostly waterproof, and some cars are totally waterproof.  Your cup is waterproof.  Yikes– no, the book is not waterproof!

But we didn’t realize how seminal being waterproof was to our children’s sense of security until the day Ithilien finally got over his fear of the bath, and his lisped, wide-grinning, 21-month-old comment on the event was “Odderpoof!”

And so, we had developed the first of our major teachings as parents.

Here’s the whole list as it stands now:

Big Lessons for Small Children (and the adults they will become)

It’s just rain, and you are waterproof.

You’re stronger than you think, and you can withstand the quotidian misfortunes of life.  It may seem frightening out there, but if you keep your wits about you and make sure you have a way to get safe (or warm and dry, as the case may be) later, you’ll likely benefit from the adventure.  It might even be fun.

Almost everything can be fixed, but virtually nothing can be made new again.

Between a needle and thread, a crochet hook, wood glue, and some simple know-how, we can fix just about everything.  Furniture can be fixed.  Your blanket can be washed.  We can add a patch to cover that torn knee.  We can rub a walnut into those gouges.  It can be fixed.  This is true of relationships, too– no matter the misstep, there’s almost always a way to make a repair and keep going if you’re willing to put in the effort to fix it.  But don’t expect that it’ll be like it was before it was broken.  Thermodynamics doesn’t allow for that, and neither do people.  You might like the mended version better– sometimes it’s stronger, or prettier– but chances are that you’ll always be able to see where something has been broken.

Use your words, and if your words don’t work, retreat and get help.

Language is a big part of what makes us humans and not just frostbitten apes.  Learn to set boundaries and express your needs and expectations now, and it will save you years of therapy as an adult.  Say it with an I-message if you can, and if you can’t, at least try to remember that arguments aren’t about being declared right, but about working out how to live in a world where you don’t always agree with everyone.  If somebody isn’t respecting your boundaries or you can’t find a way to understand each other, the best thing you can do is get help from an appropriate source, whether that means asking your mother to arbitrate turns with a toy truck, filing a restraining order against someone scary who won’t back off, or going to couples’ therapy.

Even a hug is mean if it’s not wanted.

Negotiate consent in your everyday life.  Ask before you hug, always know whether you’re playing flag or touch or tackle, offer a high-5 but don’t get strange with the exchange if the other guy leaves you hanging!  Some people won’t want to be touched, and that’s their right to decide.  Some people will be okay with the game until they’re on the receiving end of the tackle, and it’s their right to withdraw or renegotiate the rules, even then.  Understand that people cannot be obligated to do things they don’t want to do with their bodies, not even if they promised, and not even if you already went first and it feels unfair, and not even if it would benefit somebody else.  If it’s not safe, sane, and consensual, it’s not okay.

You don’t have to help, but you may not hinder.

Respect other people’s work and leave it alone if you can’t find a satisfactory way to collaborate with them.  Don’t yuck somebody else’s yum, even if you don’t share their tastes.  Food you don’t want to eat is not disgusting, you just don’t want it.  A game you don’t want to play is not stupid, you just don’t want to play it.  Everybody gets to decide for themselves, which means it’s fine if you don’t like something that somebody else likes, but don’t be a jerk about it, just decline.

Families work together.

When a group is working on something for everyone’s benefit, everyone is expected to contribute however they can.  You can negotiate your role, and feel free to be creative about finding one you like, but if you don’t find a way to contribute, don’t expect to benefit.

That bug is not going to hurt you, so leave it alone.

Treat other lifeforms with respect.  Don’t waste food, don’t step on ants, and leave those chickens alone– everything that’s alive is striving to be so, and life is hard enough without capriciousness or cruelty.  Work to preserve nature in every way you can.  Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to kill something in order to thrive yourself, and that’s acceptable, as long as you’re respectful about it and don’t take lives thoughtlessly.  Remember that someday, you might be the freaky thing crawling across somebody’s bathroom floor, and choose the cup and the paper over the sole of the shoe.

There could be zombies on the other side of that door.

A closed door is a mystery and you don’t know what’s on the other side, so be prepared before you open it.  Don’t assume that since it was the UPS driver the last four hundred times, there’s no way it will be a zombie now, because that’s how people become the teaser fatality in somebody else’s show.  Expect the unexpected.  But, that said, do understand relative risks and prepare for potential dangers proportionally to their risk– it’s fine to open the door a crack and see who it is before you unlatch the chain, but it’s probably a bit paranoid to refuse to answer the door just because you can’t put your hands on a ready-made device designed for crushing the skulls of the undead.

Nobody else can draw the spaceship you want.

Do things for yourself, even if that means doing them imperfectly.  Take the chance.  You will make mistakes; that’s part of learning.  Keep trying, because so is practicing what you want to become.  Don’t be afraid to fail, because failure is a wonderful teacher.  Keep trying, because nothing will destroy you so utterly as an abandoned dream.  You can’t wait around for someone else to deliver on your vision.  Nobody else has your brain– you are the unique product of millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of human society, and your insights and ways of thinking are yours alone.  Follow your passion and share your vision with others, even if you don’t know yet quite how you’ll make it work.  Do something creative every day, even if nobody else ever sees it and you can’t leverage it into a living wage job.  Never be ashamed to do what brings you joy, even if you know for sure that someone else makes fewer mistakes at the same activity, because vicarious pleasure over someone else’s perfect product is no substitute for your own joy in the process.  They can be better at drawing than you are, but they can’t be better at your drawings.

Listen to your body.

Sleep when you’re tired, and eat when you’re hungry– that much is obvious.  But your body gives you more subtle signals, too.  Trust your instincts about people and situations, because your brain, like your family, would rather see you safe than perfectly rational.  Know what it feels like to be getting sick and take it as a signal to go easy so you can get better again faster.  Know that a fever and a runny nose are your body’s way of making you well again, and focus on supporting your immune system instead of suppressing it and feeling oppressed by it.  Your body is your most valuable tool– use all its functions, from sensor to computer to creator to athlete.  Push your physical limits, but respect your body’s expertise when it starts to push back.  Remember that growing is hard work.

Some Grace and a little Walnut Oil

I don’t really remember what I was trying to work on.  I remember that I was yelling.


I snatched the plastic unicorn out of my 4-year-old’s hand and knelt down to bring us face-to-face.

“Ithilien!  You broke my table!  Why would you do that?”

Ithilien's feet in the doorway and a view of the offending toy unicorn on the corner of a low table, showing damage

Of course he didn’t know.  I know, because he’s four, that probably what happened was that he was fascinated by the deep pockmarks the unicorn’s horn left in the wood as he banged it down again and again on the surface of my studio cutting table.  He had tried it the first time to see what would happen, and the second time to see if it would happen again, and before he knew it there were 11 deep, short scratches in the table surface and I was yelling at him.

He made the grinch face.  You know, the one where his upper lip goes V-shaped over his sucked-in lower lip.  His eyes filled with tears.

“You scared me, Mommy!”

Why would you do that?

We’re still a few years from him articulating the second question for himself, but I have an active imagination.

I held him close in a hug.

“Oh honey, I know.  I’m sorry I yelled.  I should have been gentle and kind with my voice.”

We looked at the table and at the unicorn’s horn, now scraped clear of painted finish.  I explained that I need the table for working on, and that I want him to respect my things.  We talked about how sometimes people yell because they are angry or to get somebody’s attention if people or things are in danger, but it’s better to use a gentle and kind voice to talk to somebody, especially somebody you love.

And then I got down the jar of walnuts and we rubbed one into the scratches.  We talked about how most things can be fixed, but when you fix things they’re never really the same as they were before– that’s one of the Big Lessons we try to instill in our children from birth.

I asked his forgiveness for scaring him by yelling when I could have used a gentle voice.  I said his name with love and care, the way he deserves.

And I’m trying to have faith that he meant it when he said he forgave me, but I know that nothing is quite the same after you fix it as it was before it was broken.  Just like my table, with its now nearly-imperceptible unicorn-horn scratches.

the same table, after we rubbed some walnut into the scratches, with unicorn and Ithilien's tummy

We are all learning.  To be better, kinder people.  To think before we act.  And making mistakes is part of learning.

What matters is that we learn from mistakes and practice becoming the way we want to be.  What matters is that we know that walnut oil is a great fix for scratched tables, and a hug and an apology goes a long way to setting a relationship back on track.

Because most things can be fixed.  You just have to want to fix it and to know how to begin.

Amazing grace, indeed.


This is a tough month for me.  I’ve heard people say that February is the hardest month of the year, but I really enjoy the brief and holiday-packed whirl through those four weeks.  January, though…January is hard.

It’s a long month of gray and white.

Winter is here, but the magical sparkle has worn off.  It’s far too early to wish for spring, but too late to be glad it’s winter.

After a busy Advent and frenzied holiday crafting season, there’s not much to do that really inspires me– I’m left with the mending, with its constant needling whine in the background, and the usual grind of household goods and foods and cold-weather supplies.

I tend to spend most of January in pseudo-hibernation under a blanket in a corner of my house, watching mediocre horror movies and eating chocolate-covered almonds.

It’s not until pretty late in the month– usually this third week, after Númenor’s birthday– that I start to regain my balance.

I’m rejoicing this week in some simple little gifts of these quiet winter days.  I can find joy in our little flock of pullets, who are just starting to contribute to the larder: two warm, honey-colored eggs every day.  I can find joy in finally making some new clothing for myself, and the serendipity of a newly-drafted pattern that fits perfectly on the first try.  I can find joy in watching Númenor learn what it is to be five years old and being grateful for his health, strength, and amazing growth.  I can find joy in planning for the growing season to come– matching the seeds we’ve saved to the space we have, and wondering if we might build raised beds this spring.

And I can bide my time until February.

It Matters Monday: Terminology Matters

The obesity epidemic.

Let’s call it what it is: a culture war against fat people.

Which, over the course of time, includes basically all well-nourished people.  Yes, some are characteristically thin, some have trouble keeping their weight up due to disease or dysfunction, but in general, as human beings, we gain weight as we age.

This is a fact that the medical model does not take into account.

Nor does the medical model give credence to the trend shown by study after study: that “morbidly obese” people can be just as healthy (or healthier) than slim people, and just as active (or more active), because body size is generally an indicator of nutritional status, not health or movement habits.

So please.  Let’s call it what it is, because terminology matters.

There is no “obesity epidemic”.  There is a war on fat people.

Diet Talk and Other Forms of Body Shaming are not Child-Appropriate

It was my grandfather’s birthday dinner.  We were at a restaurant where they know my extended family quite well, and we were having a great time.  Then, Robert took the smalls to the restroom, and suddenly my mother was equating losing weight with being worthy.

“Well,” she says to my grandfather’s wife, “[little brother] is going to have to buy some new clothes since he lost 90 pounds.”

A big freaking red flag goes up in my head.

And sure enough, my mother rests on the subject of just how much weight my brother has lost and how great it is for so long that I can tell he’s uncomfortable with it, too.  My grandfather’s wife is shocked that he could have had 90 pounds to lose, she reminds him of previous weight cycling, she compliments his appearance and resolve, and she lectures him about how it’s obviously wonderful that he lost weight but he shouldn’t lose any more now that he’s skinny, as if he had lost weight to please her.  Then my mother wants him to stand up and display how ill-fitting his clothes are, like it’s a badge of honor.  He didn’t want to, he was embarrassed, he demurred.  She relented, but only on the promise that he would allow everyone to scrutinize his appearance later, when he stands up to leave the restaurant.

During this last exchange, my children have returned to the table.  I’m helping Númenor get settled again with his crayons, when I hear my grandfather say to my brother “Well, I wish you’d rub off on–” and then he gestures to his wife.

“EXCUSE ME!” I interject, loudly enough to catch the attention of the whole table, “We will only be discussing our bodies in POSITIVE ways in front of the children.”

An awkward silence.  I wish I had interrupted earlier, I wish I had taken a stronger stance, I wish I felt secure forbidding diet talk in my presence instead of only feeling able to object to it on behalf of the developing psyches of my children.

I want to be angry.  I want to channel righteous indignation and lecture these people, make them see the terrible impact of their casual violence in what is supposed to be a loving family environment.

I want to say “How dare you publicly criticize the appearance of your spouse?!”

I want to say “Do you know you’re telling my brother that he’s more worthy of love now that there’s less of him?  Do you hear yourself purporting to be the authority on what he should and shouldn’t do with his body?”

I want to say “Did you even get your son’s permission before holding a public conference on his body and sharing his private health information?”

I want to say “Diet talk and other forms of body shaming are not child-appropriate, and I don’t care for them, either!”

Instead, I help Númenor read a few numbers on his placemat, and conversation resumes around me, thankfully on a different topic.

As we’re getting ready to leave, after cake and presents and singing, I brush past my aunt and my mother having a reprise of the same weight loss conversation at my brother, who looks as uncomfortable as ever.  I roll my eyes and give him a look that I hope says “solidarity, bro” as I shepherd the smalls past so they won’t hear someone telling him how his body should look as if everyone gets a vote.

In the car on the drive home, with the smalls safely asleep in the back seat, I cry.  And I yell (sotto voce, like you do when smalls are asleep).  And I say “That is fucked up.” about 9874259 times.  And I quote theological texts, which is not something I’m prone to do.  As a very outspoken person by nature, I mourn my reticence, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change the way I acted.

The fact is that I’m trying to have patience with my family, because we are all flawed and we all have to learn to get along anyway, but mostly because I don’t think they understand what they’re doing and if I try to dunk them into the Pool of Elizabeth’s Standards at the deep end, they will drown and think it’s my fault for having such an unreasonably deep pool.  I’m letting them enter from the shallow end, in the hopes that they’ll want to learn how to swim over the next few years.  I don’t know exactly what the timeline is, but I do know I won’t be tolerating this stuff by the time Númenor and Ithilien are tweens.

I don’t think that, when my parents were raising me in a liberal ’90s household, they truly understood how that would interact with my high sensitivity to injustice.  But, as Beth recently pointed out, the Bible does say that I’m their God-given reward, and they are clergy, so they can’t claim they weren’t warned.