sorry, Mr. Franklin

As the timestamp on this post suggests, I've been staying up much too late these days. I'm not sure why... it could be because work is kind of rough and I need some time to unwind, or because there's so much I want to get done (Christmas cards are in the design phase), or maybe because bed is a frankly terrifying place sometimes with monster screaming Harvey. No not really, it's actually not that bad, though it is kind if psychologically taxing to know that you could be awoken at any moment. In any event, it's surely not good for me. New regime starts tomorrow! Late night readers (or those of you on the west coast, I guess), my days of pandering to your schedule are over.

Across the internet, a coalition of sanity

I thought I was reading one of my anarchist blogs this morning, but no, this snippet came from The Economist:

Some of us wish to encourage in individuals the sense of justice which would embolden them to challenge the institutions that control our fate by bringing their secrets to light. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals ever greater fealty and submission to corporations and the state in order to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the powerful.

Indeed, that's a pretty good description of the matter. And not that anyone cares for my opinion, but I too think WikiLeaks is a good thing.

Christmas shopping?

Traditionally, December 1st marks the beginning of the regular season of Advent (last Sunday was kind of a preseason game, as I understand it). Increasingly, though, Advent isn't much of a thing these days; so instead December marks the beginning of Christmas itself, the shopping and decorating part of the holiday. Unless of course that already started before the Thanksgiving turkey was even digested.

It's natural to object to the treacly consumer-fest that Christmas has become in the United States. Especially during a holiday that purports to celebrate God's loving presence on earth, it makes sense to want to turn away from the frenzy of desire for a moment, even if that means turning away from traditional celebrations of Christmas. Hey, the Puritans felt the same way all the way back in the 17th century! And you don't have to be Christian to hate American consumer culture, either. For anyone thinking about sustainability and socially responsible living the seasonal shopping frenzy kicked off by "Black Friday" looks pretty terrible.

And yet, I don't think that we should stop buying each other Christmas presents or support Buy Nothing Day. On the contrary, I think that campaigns like that—and apparently AdBusters is now talking about a whole "Buy Nothing Christmas"—are actually a part of the consumer culture that they're reacting against. Because you know, you don't need a break from buying things in December if you haven't been buying things all year long.

Believe it or not, there are people who don't go shopping every weekend (or even every month). Whether it's due to poverty or intentionality (or a happy combination of the two, yay!) many people manage to not buy a whole lot all year round. Rather than ratcheting up an already overwhelming race to consume, then, Christmas provides an opportunity to bust out just a little bit from our non-consumerism and treat loved ones to some special gifts: things that they wanted all year long! And if Black Friday lets us get some good deals, so much the better!

Now, don't think that this means I'm heading to the mall for a carful of designer clothes and consumer electronics. We're having a pretty homemade Christmas here at the squibix household, as is our custom. But not entirely homemade! Even back in the pioneer days our doughty DIY ancestors had to buy things every once and a while, and Christmas is as good a time as any to do it.

In short, don't make Christmas special by not buying things in December: rather try to buy less all year long. Then make your Christmas shopping special, and rejoice in giving thoughtful presents, sometimes homemade but sometimes carefully chosen at select commercial establishments, to your loved ones.

But you can still grump about the terrible Christmas music on the radio.

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the end of the salad days

Actually, the title of this post isn't quite accurate: we haven't been eating salad for a while now. However, this evening I finished the last of the summer's tomatoes, just a bit later than last year. It was delicious on a homemade bagel with cream cheese and salmon spread... thanks Leah! I brought in a whole bushel (speaking metaphorically: I don't actually know how big a bushel is) of green tomatoes before the first hard frost, and they've been hanging out on the buffet since then. Many of them rotted in whole or part, unfortunately, thanks to either preexisting blemishes or our complete lack of any idea of how to store them properly. Still, we ate a goodly number: more than we expected once the cold weather arrived. And next year we'll do even better!

We also still have some carrots as well, now that I think of it, so my title is even less apt than I thought. I just can't resist the easy joke. In all seriousness, though, it's pretty cool to still have garden vegetables in December without any real effort to preserve them. Imagine what we could do if we actually worked at it! We're a long way from self-sufficiency, sure, but baby steps!

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stitches in time

patches on my jeans

hobo style

I'm starting to look a little ragged these days, I'm afraid. Not buying any new clothes in well over a year will do that to a gentleman. Socks with holes, shoes coming apart at the seams (and the soles), rips in all my jeans: the dispiriting list goes on. Yesterday it was the turn of a pair of corduroy trousers to suffer what I feared was a mortal wound when I put my foot up on my bike frame to roll up my cuffs. A gigantic rip in the crotchal area—lucky it only happened on the way home, and not when I was doing straddle jumps in gym or vaulting a post on the playground at recess (yes, I do work very hard). But Leah says that it can be fixed!

She does amazing work in keeping me together, really. The patches on my jeans are stylish as well as functional, and I say as much to anyone who comments on them. Actually, I usually say "functional as well as stylish", because the assumption in this modern world is that our distressed clothes are straight from the boutique. Not mine: I came by those rips naturally! And I want to make sure that everybody—especially everybody at work—knows that a good part of the reason for my patches is that I don't get paid enough to buy another pair of quality jeans. Our days of shopping at Ruehl are over! Though so are everybody else's too, I suppose: the brand apparently went belly-up some time last year.

Maybe we're not the only ones to decide that you don't need to buy expensive new jeans if you can keep the ones you have going with a few stylish stitches. Although, I don't actually know how many stitches are required: as I intimated, clothing repairs are strictly Leah's department. So perhaps it's hypocritical of me to advocate mending rather than buying new, but I think that it's something that, at the very least, is worth thinking about. And in my defense, I'm really good at the not-buying-new part!

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Holiday making is making it's way...

All knit and jammed for the Bernstein's festival of lights...

chanukah presents ready to wrap

chanukah presents ready to wrap

Some Christmas things done already... things that were not finished last year...

christmas quilts drying on the line

christmas quilts drying on the line

Some things in progress but getting oh so close to done...

christmas sweater all but the sleeves

wip 1 - only 2 sleeves to go!

Some things just started but very very exciting...

wip 2 - one sheep of many

wip 2 - one sheep of many

And more surprises I can't even share until later. It's a fun fun year for us!

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on the morality and societal perception of dumpster diving

Over at Concrete Gardener Jo has posted about scoring a bunch of apples out of a dumpster by her house (and using them to make an apple crisp, of course!). We're a little jealous: after I read Waste and told Leah all about it, she took a few trips round to the local grocery stores to see if she could do any dumpster diving of her own. No luck: they're all locked away. Plus, there's that pesky sense of unease that comes with taking things out of the trash.

Not that we're worried about getting sick from food that's been thrown away: the whole point is that the stuff grocery stores are chucking is perfectly good, for the most part. And when it comes to the vast majority of what we eat—bread, fruits and veggies, and dairy—a quick look and a sniff is all you need to tell if something is off. The real problem is that, as much as we rationally feel that making use of cast-off food makes personal economic sense and is even a positive social force, we've been culturally brought up to feel on the one hand that trash is private property and on the other that we shouldn't degrade ourselves by taking handouts of any kind. And then, even if we do manage to find a full open dumpster—shouldn't we leave the bounty for someone who really needs it?!

All three of those objections came up when we were chatting to Jo about her apple find at Thanksgiving. They're tough problems: even though the first two are objectively nonsense—at least if you're a filthy hippy like us—they still have the power to restrain our actions. Even when we settle the issues within our own heart, there's still the neighbors to consider: what happens if someone I know sees me?! (Or even someone I don't know; the situation has the potential to be embarrassing in any case). The third is different, because yes, other folks will always need free food more than we do, for any value of "we". I don't, though, think we're taking food out of the mouths of anyone if we manage to liberate something from the trash behind the Bedford Whole Foods, and as long as we continue our other charitable activities we shouldn't worry on that front. Or we could, as Luke suggested, learn the hobo code and chalk directions to the good dumpsters on the street!

I grapple with a very similar dilemma every day on both legs of my commute. Right on the Lexington/Bedford line is a condemned home, with a fence around it and—relevant to my interests—a whole lot of junk piled very impressively in the yard. I'm especially interested in the heap of five-gallon buckets. $2.54 at Home Depot online may not break the bank, but money is money and I could use a bunch of those in my farming efforts. And more importantly, I really think they're going to go to waste if I don't take them. Bulldozed into landfill when the house is finally taken down, most likely.

But what if somebody who actually has claim to them is planning to use them? I can't shake the thought. Plus, there's the fence to consider; although it provides only a visual reminder of the cultural expectation of private property, something that would alone probably prevent me from going in after the buckets even if the place weren't protected by cheap chain-link. As I say, it's a dilemma. There's also a trail-a-bike that's been locked up by the Dunkin Donuts in Lexington that I'd love to get my hands on. That one has a U-Lock, though, so there are also technical issues of removal to consider.

Neither of those are trash, though, and all that food is. Legally, trash on the curb is public property; though the stuff locked up in dumpsters is not, I don't think the stores have any moral right to it after consigning it to disposal. So can we bring ourselves to go get it? Would you?

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slower fast food

I have heard, in my life, people tell me that they don't eat at McDonald's; they tend to be proud of this fact. Certainly, there are reasons to dislike "the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants" [1]; you might object to how they source their food, how they treat their employees, or even how they prepare their burgers and fries. And then there's the packaging that comes with everything, even when you eat in the store. Terrible! But you know, I think that nearly everyone who's happy they never visit McDonald's mostly just doesn't care for the food. Oh, it's so easy then!

Our feelings about Micky D's are more mixed. Nuanced, if you will. And that nuance is heavily influenced by the fact that we in fact find certain of McDonald's offerings quite tasty indeed. Also cheap, which is a fact that should not be overlooked when considering the chain's merits. But mainly tasty and convenient. By some strange coincidence, cheap, tasty, and convenient happen to be McDonald's main selling points. What are the chances?!

Liking the food means that we're prepared to see good in other aspects of the company as well. Like, have you ever noticed how boldly post-racial their ads are? Or how they're making an effort to present healthier alternatives and more responsibly sourced ingredients? They're not doing much about the trash problem, which is actually the biggest issue I have with fast food generally—but overall, if you ask me it's not all bad. Arguments to the contrary welcome in the comments.

What inspired this post was not actually a trip to McD's, but a homemade alternative. The other day while unavoidably out and about Leah tried a snack wrap and found it good, though little (that's how they make it healthy). We took the snack wrap as the inspiration for our dinner this evening, and enjoyed our own combination of fried chicken strips, shredded cheddar, lettuce, and delicious honey-mustard sauce. All home-made and prepared with ingredients from the finest of hippy sources. Well, kind of: Whole Foods counts, I think, but I'm not sure about Costco. Now if only I could find out how to duplicate their cheeseburgers and fries we could stop going there at all and once again be welcome in the company of other, better, hippies.

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who pays any attention to the syntax of things

Leah is making a list of the words Harvey can say; it must run to a couple hundred items at this point. Impressive enough I suppose, but I'm already on to the next step. Now that he's stringing words together in primitive sentences, I feel that it's more important to focus on the syntax of his language. So far, though, I've been unable to effectively communicate to him that English is in fact a word-order language, and specifically one that requires a SVO pattern. "On chair" has an entirely different meaning than "chair on" to fluent speakers of the language, to say nothing of "hat on Harvey" as opposed to "Harvey on hat." But I guess he's still just trying things out. Cute little guy.

more noooneeee?

I've been nursing Harvey for almost 18 months now, and I still like it. Well, let me put some parentheses on that. I like it at 11 am when it calms him into a cuddly afternoon nap. I like it less at fussy bed-time, and even less at 6 in the morning when the anticipation thereof has solicited screaming outbursts at 3am and every hour thereafter. Seriously. Every friggin night. If you want to get 8 hours of sleep in this household, you have to go to bed at 7.

Harvey too loves nursing and seems in no way inclined to give it up. I'm floating the possibility in my own brain of tandem nursing when the new baby comes. I'm not sure whether that will be easier or harder than weaning Harvey on my schedule, nor am I sure which is better for seeing that both children feel attended to and loved. I've never actually met a tandem nurser in person, so it seems kind of like chasing a mythical unicorn.

I do know that there's a lot of bullshit about nursing floating around in our cultural ether, which makes me raise serious eyebrows at anyone else who jumps to give me advice. A neighbor told me months ago, "You're thinking of getting pregnant? You know you're going to have to stop nursing, right?" Indeed, most people are aghast when they find out that I'm still nursing while with child. But here I am bucking everyone's fears, gaining a pound a week right on schedule (which makes for a rather slow and un-vigorous buck, but you understand). And Harvey isn't nutritionally phased by the few sips of milk he gets thrice daily. He goes right on chomping through whatever we put in front of him, alongside items he demands of my plate and food from the dog's dish. Which is a matter for another post, but ew.

I would like to get him off morning nursing and asking for it all night, which heralds the end of co-sleeping for my first born. I feel rather bitter sweet about the whole thing. I love sleeping next to Harvey, but we all desperately need more sleep. I'm trying to come to grips with the fact that my family sleeping situation needs to be dictated by actual sleep, not by my need for love or my pathological fear that our basement will spontaneously combust.

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it's cold

The weather has turned colder here: yesterday was the first day where the mercury didn't make it above freezing all day, and today started off even colder. I tried a couple times to write an amusing—or at the very least interesting—post about it, but I couldn't manage it. I guess it's all been done before. Sorry. That's what happens when you blog consistently for five years, I suppose.

happy birthday Greg!

On a day where I could have comfortably gone to bed at, oh, noon, I didn't really need to attend a party that started at eight o'clock. A party at a bar, no less! I didn't need to, but when could I ever pass up a social engagement?! As I was telling folks there, I try to make it to a bar once a year or so. It was fun chatting with the hip young folks—well, relatively young; the birthday boy was turning 30, after all—but I most enjoyed talking to the only other young couple in the room with a child: one just two weeks younger than Harvey, as it happens! Their son is still nursing, despite his mother's previous conviction that it would be time to stop when he started being able to ask for it. We don't know anyone like that.

They also just bought a house with ten acres of pastures and woodlots, and are thinking about maybe some animals in a few years, so we're totally jealous. And also would like to hang out with them... if only they didn't live several hours away.

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You think my former boss will get weirded out by the LOVE stamps?

I addressed all our Christmas card envelopes today. Yes, I swear they'll be there before Christmas! Because I'm a thrifty little homemaker and because I didn't want to run to the post office in the rain, I used up some old stamps that have been sitting around here for two or more years. Since these stamps are in ancient denominations that don't work out right with a two cent helper stamp next to them, I just doubled them up and way overshot the postage. Some letters will be going out with two extra cents, some with twenty, and some with 40 extra cents a piece, which is a hard pill to swallow for the sender, but still cheaper for me than going to the post office and shelling out more money on stamps. As a little economist, I get a thrill at using up stock instead of buying new. Sunk cost replaces new cost and is un-sunk! On the other hand, as a homemaker I cringe a little bit at the tackiness of two out-dated flag stamps accompanying a Christmas card. But this month I'll take tacky, cheap and done over classy, expensive and on-the-friggin-to-do-list.

sicky sick

The nice thing about the stomach flu is that it ends quickly. Must be evolution. Otherwise you would certainly kill yourself.

I've had a rough day.

Thank God for Dan who took care of Harvey and Rascal all day. Now he only has 2 sick days left for the birth of our next child. La la la... not thinking about that now. Survive through this first and then we'll think about surviving June.

the end of an era

the old Burlington Market Basket at night

shining brightly no more

Even though all modern grocery stores are part of chains, they still each have their own individual personalities. One of those personalities met its end this weekend. I knew that the Burlington Market Basket would be moving to (much) bigger new digs next door, but I didn't know how soon; so I was surprised when I visited yesterday evening only to find the original store an empty shell.

A lot of people I ever talked to expressed their dislike—disgust, even—with the old store. I actually kind of liked it. Sure, the place wasn't big, the aisles were super narrow, and that basket of pancakes in cellophane was really in the way in the baking needs aisle. But it felt cheap, which I liked. Cheap is good when you're poor! Wide, spacious aisles and faux-stone flooring cost money—money that I'm afraid will need to be recouped by higher grocery prices.

Still, the new place is kind of impressive. Super huge, certainly, so there will be room for a wider variety of culinary choices. I guess they felt a need to compete with the also super huge H-Mart that went it around the corner earlier this year. There's now a fish counter, for example, instead of four feet of freezer, and no doubt much more which I will have to explore another day when I don't need to rush home to a sick mama and baby.

I'll also, I'm sure, discover where things are. I knew the old Market Basket well, having shopped there for years and years: all the way back to when I was dragged along by my mother. I don't remember if it was so far back that I was riding in the cart—I think not. I wonder if Harvey will have any recollection of the old store? I'll have to be sure to tell heroic stories about it, so it lives in his memory as the glorious palace of affordable food that it will always be to me.

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but this could be the time that it strikes!

When we first got him, Rascal was a very nervous dog. He still is, you might argue, but if you knew him then you'd have to admit that he has made great strides in overcoming his fears. He can walk by a trash can on the sidewalk without having to detour far into the street, for example. But there are some things that still terrify him, and one such thing is the vacuum cleaner.

You'd think he'd have gotten used to it by now. It's not like we're neat freaks or anything, but we do manage to vacuum at least once a week or so—more, when Rascal is in a shedding period (six months in the spring and six months in the fall). He's five now, so he's seen a lot of that machine over the years. And yet he still runs upstairs with his tail between his legs whenever we bring it out. I suppose we should admire that sort of consistency.

In his defense, he's not afraid of it when it's not running. Even if we leave it near his food dishes he'll happily munch on his dinner without a care for the mechanical monster beside him. It's only when it's moving—or when the cord is being retracted—that he gets worried. Maybe the great victory he once won over the machine gives him courage; at least until he hears it's terrible roar.

Not that we mind this little bit of cowardice. If nothing else it gets him out of the way when we're trying to clean; unlike our other child, who would like to stand on top of the carpet attachment when he's not grabbing the handle and trying to do the vacuuming himself. But that's a subject for another post.

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i yelled at my kid.

Harvey had a tough morning today. Since he seemed 95% recovered from his illness, we tried to take him to a morning concert at Dan's school, but the boy only screamed "Home! Home! Home" until safely back in the car. He fell asleep on the ride home (despite it only being 9:30am) and decided those ten minutes constituted all the napping he needed for the day. And thus he refused to nap all morning, even though he was clearly so tired that he played a game which consisted entirely of lying on the floor and telling adjacent objects to "moof" out of his way.

Yes, he was tired, but he did not want to sleep. I tried nursing him and rocking him, but when he realized sleep was my end-game he fought and kicked and punched at me. When I let him down he just stood there screaming "MAMA MAMA" and wouldn't be soothed by anything, not picking up, not looking at a book, nothing. After about 45 minutes of singing and rocking and trying to otherwise sooth a boy who was screaming and sobbing and punching all at the same time, I picked him up to carry him into the bedroom where I fully intended to leave him forever. As I walked across the hall he let out a particularly high-pitched screech right in my ear that stopped me dead in my tracks. Turning my face to him I bellowed, "STOP SCREAMING IN MY FACE!"

Harvey was so taken aback by my outburst that he grabbed ahold of my neck, buried his face in my shoulder and sobbed. Then in about 30 seconds he was asleep. It was as if he said, "oh crap, maybe she doesn't love me anymore!" and then in the time it took him to seek my approval again he finally got enough soothed to conk out.

Look, this wasn't our finest hour either of us, and I'm not advocating screaming at your kid as a sleep-educing method. All I'm saying is that parenting is fucked up. "What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do," says Paul in Romans 7:15. I don't know, whatever. Sometimes that works better.

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style change

The blog and all the rest turns blue for winter. Maybe it'll bring snow here in Massachusetts: we're jealous of the rest of the world. If anything is still orange, hold down shift and reload the page. And please let me know if anything looks wrong!

if you can make it you can eat it

A while ago one of my coworkers was surprised to find me ordering tater-tots from the cafeteria to accompany my lunch. "I thought you were a healthy eater!" she told me. While I admit that my svelte figure may encourage the idea, health is in fact not my main priority in choosing what to eat. Leah and I were discussing this very subject this evening over our dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and french fries.

Actually, there are some aspects of healthy eating that I at least think about before I stuff myself. We stay away from processed food, from stuff with artificial preservatives, from high-fructose corn syrup—most of the time. And most importantly, we make most of what we eat from scratch. That, to me, is the way to make sure your diet is mostly good for you. Sure, have pizza (Wednesday dinner and all day yesterday) or fries or even tiramisu; if you have to make it yourself you probably won't have enough to be seriously unhealthy. Not that you can't manage to gorge yourself at a single meal, of course: I'm still recovering from the amount of fries I ate this evening. Maybe three potatoes for two-and-a-half eaters was a bit much? But I'm sure not making fries every night!

And then there are those times I don't even follow the home-made rule. The tomato soup, for example, was from a can and was full of HFCS. But it's a treat, and I can't yet bring myself to shell out the extra money for a hippy brand without unnecessary ingredients (or to learn to make tomato soup myself—it can't be that hard...). Or those tater tots. But not very often.

The bigger benefit of home-made food, though, is the reduction in waste and packaging and fuel and just plain industrial effort it takes to get prepared food to the consumer. Why ship potatoes to a factory and then to a grocery store, when I can just get them raw and do the french frying myself? In the summer I can even get them direct from the farmer—how's that for cutting out the middle man?!

Truth be told, that's what drives most of my food choices. The health aspect can take care of itself. I get some exercise, and I don't eat really a lot of food overall, so I'm not concerned about the amount of fat or carbs in one particular meal. I also never go to the doctor so I have no idea, say, what my blood pressure might be. So don't take my advice on any of this, just know that if I seem to be eating healthy it's just a coincidence.

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it's beginning to look a lot

the mostly-decorated Christmas tree

surge illuminare

The accouterments of Christmas are starting to accumulate round here. Now all we need is a little snow. Oh, and to finish making the presents.

our nativity set

now with wise men

gingerbread house

pray the mice don't decide to move in

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snippets from our conversation today... hilarious to people who haven't slept in over a year.

Leah: Hey, did I tell you? My mom's cousin has a brand new double stroller she's going to give us.
Dan: That's awesome. Is it side-by-side or one-in-front-and-one-in-back?
Leah: I don't know.
Dan: Oh well. Don't look a gift stroller in the seating arrangement.

————

Leah: Do you know Harvey can say "barking" now? He heard Rascal downstairs and he said, "Wasgoo Bah-kin?"
Dan: Hey, do you know where a lot of dogs hang out? A BARKING lot! ... I just made that up just now.

————

Leah: Do you want some chicken, Harvey?
Harvey: Chicken Harvey?

18 months.

Today my little boy turns 18 months. It's hard to believe. Only 18 months? Isn't he like 5 going on 21? Haven't I been his mama forever?

He's so much smarter than his 18 months would indicate. He's flinging out three-word sentences right and left ("Momma get train!" "Bear on horsey!") He understands the concepts of parts to a whole, counting, and even colors. Not to mention so many more than 200 words, rudimentary cooking ability, and psychological manipulation 101.

In honor of this wonderful little person who lives with us I'd like to present four short videos that highlight different aspects of Harvey's year-and-a-half personality.

Harvey's musical ability. And his unfathomable cuteness:

Harvey's beautiful relationship with Rascal. And how he wants to be a dog when he grows up:

Harvey's advanced manual dexterity, choreographic memory, and good humor:

Harvey's strong will:

That's my little guy. I love him so much it's impossible.

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elvish effort

We're working hard here at squibix enterprises, inc. to get ready for Christmas. Well, some of us are working; Harvey does his part by going to bed early without a fuss to let us get some serious holiday prep done between the hours of 7 and 10 pm. Leah of course has a variety of craft disciplines well in hand: sewing, knitting, even book-making. It's harder for me without any actual skills, but I'm doing as much as I can with graphic design and preserves (and the intersection between the two). I'm even branching out a little into sewing and carpentry!

We won't have an entirely home-made Christmas, but a significant percentage of the gifts will be products of our own industry. It's very gratifying to our hippy sensibilities—and it's also a great way to save money, especially when your hourly labor is valued as low as ours is.

You'll notice, though, that even with all the work we're doing we still make time for blogging. That's our gift to you!

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what I'm working on

With just a few days do go I'm feeling more confident than I have ever been about home-made Christmas. This year I made more nice gifts than I ever did before, on account of starting in June on some bigger projects. This means that not one, not two, but six members of my family will get hand knit somethings this year, several others hand sewn somethings, with lots of other mini projects here and there to fill in the gaps.

As always, there are set-backs, like finding out that the mice ate Harvey's handmade stocking from last year, finding out at the same time that Dan hates his current stocking, and running out to JoAnnes to confidently purchase $25 worth of wool that has yet to become 5 new stockings. Errr, that's a project for tomorrow night.

Today I'm finishing up the cuff of Harvey's sweater, and it looks like a real Christmas miracle will occur and my tiny ball of yarn will hold out another 20 rows. If that gets done before 10pm I'm going to finish binding the board book that started out as a whim and ended up in 20 plus hours of work. Harvey's nativity set has already taken about three billion hours from September to present, and as of yesterday I officially gave up on adding Wise Men. That set already contains six dolls and two sheep all painstakingly hand-stitched, so I'm ready to call it a day, or rather call it a Luke-version Nativity and leave it at that.

All of these projects are to be photographed and blogged about in time, but probably not before the holiday, so in the meantime I leave you with two short Christmas projects that I blatantly stole from someone else's blog. The first is Peppermint bark:

peppermint bark

not just the thought that counts

I made this on Sunday and when Dan tried a piece he said, "I demand you make more of this." This is good stuff, y'all. I would be making more at the moment but it only takes white chocolate chips with real coco butter in them, which only come from Trader Joe's, and after the JoAnnes run the other day I have refused to drive anywhere near Burlington until Christmas is over. But if you can find the ingredients (and can slog through a recipe the size of Moby Dick) I strongly suggest you try it.

peppermint bark

that shit is good

My other new obsession this year is making re-usable wrapping sacks. They're like wrapping paper except reusable and more time consuming and you need to get out your stupid iron and why aren't you making Christmas stockings what on earth is your problem?

cloth wrapping paper

getting there...

I've made three more bags since this photo, and I would so much like to do ALL my wrapping with cloth bags, even though it adds so much time to the already late evenings. I don't know, something about the idea that it might ease my time next year, that makes it justified in my mind.

If knitting and book binding and stocking sewing go smoothly (and why should they?) then I'm sure I'll find something else to do before Saturday. Ornaments? Another hat? I really love Christmas.

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... and to all a good night!

We spent the evening busily finishing and wrapping, and I felt like I was in pretty good shape with the whole day off tomorrow until I remembered that we have to go to church. You know, the reason for the season and all that. Still, things feel very much under control, so I take a moment to present you with this year's Christmas card. It is the latest in a long series. This year's version is inspired by an old poem, and it has it's own page of explication.

As always, if you want to get on our Christmas card list just drop us a note (or a card of your own!): we love making them and sending them out!

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Christmas snapshots

the tree and 18 butler with many many presents

think there's enough presents for all us Archibalds?

a cloth-wrapped, gold-ribboned present

cloth and classy

Rascal on Harvey's Christmas quilt

he relaxes after opening presents

Much more later.

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Christmas Sweater

A brief programming note for our faithful 100 readers: I aim to write a few separate posts about my Christmas craft projects this year, if only to spread out the self-congratulatory photo dumps a little longer. So we'll celebrate Christmas on the blog for another week, and starting in the new year I think I'll start a series of posts about being a full-time mom of a toddler. Because, you know, that's ground-breaking blogging right there. But for now, onto the knitting porn!

I give you Harvey's Christmas sweater:

harvey in his new orange sweater

happy to be warm outside

Harvey picked out the yarn for this himself, way back in the summer when we were more mobile and could bike all the way to the Lexington knitting store. That's only to demonstrate how frigging long this sweater took me to knit. With 168 stitches around the middle and 87 around the sleeves, I could have knitted a while adult sweater in the time it took me to make this 2-year-old version. That's due to the small size of the needles (2 and 3 US, respectively) which for some reason didn't give me pause when I picked up the pattern. Although I love the way the tiny stitches look and the amazing elasticity of the ribbing, I'd still prefer a 7 or 9 for future sweaters.

orange sweater side view

steppin out in style

The sweater is knitted almost entirely in the round, which is lovely for the base rows and would be more lovely if more than half the sweater wasn't ribbing. Still, it's a nice technique on principle, though I'm not super keen on the gigantic external seam along the shoulder that's left by casting off two sets of stitches together. I know the point of the round method is to be seamless on the inside, but after working all those tiny sleeve rows on double pointed needles I've decided that I rather like seams in the end. They're handy for hiding your yarn ends, after all. Another point of contention with the pattern: what's that weird neck gusset interrupting the ribbing? Does anybody find that odd? I am told by the now-out-of-print Debbie Bliss pattern that this is a traditional guernsey sweater, but I don't know how many fisherman I've seen walking around with big neck and gussets.... maybe I don't see enough fisherman.

orange sweater back

what Christmas magic lies ahead?

No matter how many curse words go into knitting a sweater, it's always an unspeakable joy when it's finished. When I opened the package for Harvey on Christmas morning he looked at it and said, "ninning?"

"No sweetie, mama's all finished knitting this. It's a sweater now." I held it up for him to see that it was in fact a garment and not something he would get yelled at for touching.

"On?" he said immediately, sticking out his hand.

For the rest of the day he refused to take the thing off, even when it reached 80 degrees next to the fireplace and his cheeks turned apple red. Of course this makes the whole project worth it, all the late-night error-fixing and the times these past two weeks when I let him watch an extra episode of Phineus and Ferb just so that I could get in a few more rows. All that is more than doubly worth it for that one moment of "On?"

harvey watching computer in his orange sweater

I love that boy so much it's stupid

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hatties

The one thing that Dan requested from me this Christmas was a thick knit hat with a fleece lining inside. A seemingly simple request, so I started on this one quite early. I had picked up some un-dyed yarn from our local sheep at last spring's woolopolooza, and it seemed like the perfect thing. Two skeins ended up being enough a matching set of boys hats. Indeed, a third hat came out of the lot too - a casualty from my habit of always knitting the first Harvey hat too small. That one went to our friend baby Noah, since it's too much for me to keep two identical hats of different sizes in the house, even if we do have another baby on the way.

harvey and dan in their new christmas hats

harvey dada hattey?

You may notice a row of black stitches on the bottom of Dan's hat. That's holding the fleece lining in place, the key detail in Dan's initial request. In theory it seemed like a cinch to sew a fleece layer to a knit cap. In practice it's not something I'd willingly do again outside of a special Christmas request. I had wanted to use the grey hat yarn as thread, but it refused to go through the thick fleece. The next best choice was black thread which matched the liner, but my OCD over making messy sewing stitches over the nice neat knitted ones made the last step of this project stretch to almost three hours, about half as long as it took me to knit the whole dang hat! Also, the knit and fleece stretch differently, which means I had to set up the spacing with about a zillion pins. All surmountable hurdles in theory, but not the thing you want to be dealing with at 10pm two days before Christmas. Anyway, I think it came out looking pretty good, although that Drumlin sheep wool pulls together like crazy. I was expecting more stretch with wearing, but after two days Dan says it's still a bit tight. I just might have to wet block the thing over a bowling ball this week.

I made some other hats for this year's holiday season. Here's one for my mom featuring a cute little knit leaf. I also make one for my Dad and one for our sister Nelly, although I didn't snap good pictures of these. Oh well, such is life.

beth in her chanukah hat

elegant for an elegant lady

The other big knitting project I completed this season was a vest for my brother. You'll notice the resemblance to the vest I made for Dan last year on his birthday.

jake in his chanukah vest

pass the chopped liver, man!

It's a fantastically simple pattern, and a good semi-big knitting project for boys. It's not as mind-numbing as a sweater since there are no sleeves, but it certainly makes me feel more accomplished than a hat. I'll always think of this vest as the sandbox vest, since I knit most of the base while sitting next to Harvey in the sandbox this summer. That's the key to getting in six knit gifts by Christmas - starting in July.

So those are the things I knitted this year. Resolutions for the new year include working through my stash of odds-and-ends (baby mittens anyone?) and trying out my first carrying-color pattern for Dan's birthday. Which is less than three months away! For a sweater with sleeves! Eek! Better get knitting!

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old and new trousers

One of my Christmas presents this year was a new pair of Carhartt trousers. I needed them to replace the ones I bought a couple years ago, which are starting to show their age. I had forgotten how stiff they are when they're new. You can tell they're real trousers for real men because of how they can stand up on their own—not like wimpy jeans that need a person inside them to hold them up! I'm wearing the new pair now, and sitting with my legs very straight.

new and old Carhartts

before and after

As the above graphical representation indicates, as well as getting softer and rather more well-ventilated, they also lighten dramatically in color with age. Leah was upset that she couldn't find the color I like, but I'm pretty sure that what she bought is, in fact, it.

The new pair, too, will in time be broken in; and then will subsequently be broken down. It's part of the circle of life, I think. That doesn't mean I feel any better about getting rid of the old pair, though! Maybe I can keep em around to use as pajamas.

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Harvey's Nativity

This was Harvey's "big" christmas present from this year. Not that he liked it the most - that prize went to a bouncy ball and two wood cars I got at the paper store. No, this 20-hour present is more of a gesture, a holding place, stock for later Montessori moments in his life when he may want to learn more about Jesus' birth.

the members of harvey's nativity set

all together now!

Every doll in this set is hand-sewn, even the sheep, because they're too small to put through the sewing machine. That makes for about 2.5 hours per doll, not counting the clothes.

mary and the baby jesus

the virgin mother mild

All the dolls in the set use the same pattern, except for Mary who has a special pocket in her nether regions from wence the baby can emerge. It's a play set with a life lesson thrown in to boot! Don't worry, I've spared you the detailed pictures here, though you're welcome to come over and play with them yourself.

For his part, when I showed Harvey the baby coming out he said, "No? No?" Too bad junior. That decision isn't up to you.

nativity exterior shot

a place to creche

Dan made this awesome stable out of wood to hold the playset. The roof even comes off for easy access! It was very exciting to collaborate with Dan on a project, especially since I don't do wood working, and I was less excited to try my hand at a felt stable than I was about the arc. In the end the set could use a few more things... a manger out of popcicle sticks, three wise-men which I wisely declined to make at the last minute. That just means there are some no-brainer gifts for next year's stocking. You know, when he might actually be interested in playing with dolls.

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snowy days

our house under the first real snow of winter 2010-2011

winter is here

It finally snowed for real here in eastern Massachusetts, Sunday and Monday after Christmas. Harvey had seen snow before, obviously, but even by the end of last winter he was pretty much too young to enjoy it. That's all changed now!

As soon as the snow stopped on Monday we all rushed outside to try some sledding. We even drove over to Lexington to take a few runs down the old ancestral sledding hill ("The Piggy", as it's known). It was pretty cold and windy, so Harvey made sure to bundle up:

Harvey on the sled, bundled up against the cold

ready for anything!

Today we did some more sledding, in rather less extreme conditions:

We also built a snowman—we practically had to, given Harvey's love of all things snowman-related (it's thanks to the book, movie, and doll that he now points out snowmen on, for example, the promotional signs inside Whole Foods).

Harvey and Rascal with our snowman

mmm... pretzel eyes

Harvey can't really walk in the eight inches or so of snow that cover the lawn, but that doesn't mean he doesn't like it. Several times every day, whether outside or just looking out the window, he proclaims apropos of nothing: "snowy day!" Or as he has it, "Nowey Daiy!" I love it too, boyo.

our house, with Christmas lights, in the snow

cold and quiet

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my Christmas accomplishments

some of the preserves we gave as Christmas presents

giving the gift of summertime flavors

As I mentioned, I did my best with the limited skills I possess to come up with a minimally acceptable set of homemade presents this Christmas. Preserves I can handle, but all that I needed to do for them last week was applying labels and making boxes. All the hard work was way back in the summer, which doesn't quite seem fair.

I did manage a little bit of baking: I made some well-received orange-chocolate shortbread and some ugly and deformed peanut-butter cups. Perhaps I would have done better had I started the whole project earlier than 9:30 in the evening on Christmas Eve. Next year.

My other project was a set of calling cards—mama cards, if you will—for Leah. She asked me to make her some: they're apparently a thing, and really do seem like a good idea for when you happen to meet someone at the playground. Not that that's likely to happen for a couple months; Harvey and I tried to go yesterday, but the snow cover was complete enough to prevent any fun from being had. In any case, this was one task where I could fully leverage my core skill-set of putting a little bit of information on a document with a whole lot of white space around it and calling it elegant design. Really, Harvey is so photogenic that nobody will be looking at the text anyways. Unless, I suppose, they want to call Leah. Luckily her number isn't blurred out in real life.

calling cards for Leah, featuring Harvey's cute little mug

look at that little model

I also made that stable for Harvey's nativity set. Oh, and a spice rack for Leah's use! Can't forget that! Except that I haven't managed to put it up yet, so full credit is yet pending.

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quilt

blue and yellow quilt hanging on the line

a baby quilt 2 years in the making

I started this quilt before Harvey was born. It was supposed to be a baby quilt for a few-month-old to lie on top of, but the finishing stages were such a pain in the ass that I never got it done. I made a valiant effort to finish it before last Christmas, but I stupidly thought I would save time by not changing the foot on my machine. That 10-minute time saver turned into six hours of ripping out stitches. At the rate of an hour a month. If you're a quilter, you don't need me to warn you to change the foot on your machine before quilting. If you're not a quilter, DON'T START!

another picture of the blue quilt

meticulously randomized color gradations.

Anyway, I finally got the last of the bad stitches out and decided to make a go of finishing it before Christmas this year. When properly executed the finishing wasn't the end of the world - about four or five hours all told, and I did it in two days during naps and nights. Boy did that make me feel stupid. Because, you know, here's Harvey now with a tiny quilt he can't much use, that I could have finished when he was 6 months old if only I stayed up an extra few hours.

Rascal on Harvey's Christmas quilt

he relaxes after opening presents

Fortunately Rascal redeemed the project by lying right on top of it as soon as the quilt was spread. We even used it later in the afternoon to protect my in-laws couch when Rascal wanted to take a nap. So all's well that ends well I guess.

I love the look of quilting, but it turns out that I hate almost every step in the process. I hate cutting fabric, especially geometrically. I hate lining up the top layer with the batting and backing. I hate making bias tape only slightly more than I hate buying it. And I hate the long boring and crazy-OCD-making process of quilting. The only thing I like is sewing the pieces together. That 1/10th of the process is so satisfying.

I've been debating whether to start some sort of blanket for the new baby. A knitted blanket plays more to my strengths, but a nice patchwork quilt would use up some scraps and not require the expensive outlay of a full blanket's worth of yarn. But, you know, would fill my house with cursing. Decisions decisions.

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