It's been challenging finding time to sew these days. Zion decided he will only nap when strapped to my chest, and I simply can't cut out a pattern straight on the fold with only one hand.
I can, however, complete tiny finicky projects like cutting out shapes and sewing them onto onesies. Which, incidentally, is the only thing I got done this week other than folding diapers.
I got 3 onesies for $.30 thanks to a Target gift card from one of Dan's students. All the contrasting fabric came from recycled t-shirts in my stash, making this a very cheap project.
I have one more blank onesie to embellish. Any ideas?
Beach, ice cream, and dinner with friends: that's summer vacation!
Ice cream not pictured because all the youngsters slept through it, or almost: Harvey woke up after we had finished so we got him his own (and some more for us for later!), but it was kind of a bad scene. Half an hour in the car is not sufficient nap after several hours of beach. But a little television and playing trains with Tim—and then a whole lot of dinner—made everything better. We'll all sleep well tonight!
Via Root Simple, a great National Geographic article about crop diversity. The aim of the piece is to point out how monoculture agriculture is setting us up for disaster when climate change and disease render the few widely-grown cultivars of major crops unusable. That's a worthwhile concern, and as Kelly at Root Simple writes, it's also just sad that all those wonderful historic varieties have been lost. But it was another aspect that caught my attention:
Small farmers and pastoralists have gone deep into debt to pay for the "inputs"—the fertilizers, pesticides, high-protein feeds, and medication—required to grow these new plants and livestock in different climate conditions. They are like addicts, hooked on a habit they can ill afford in either economic and ecological terms.
My other posts last year talk about the subject with more eloquence (or at least more length) so I won't rehash all I have to say about how ridiculous it is to export a system of agriculture that doesn't even work (for farmers or eaters; I'm not concerned with corporations) in this country.
Happily, the article also presents an alternative view:
Forty-year-old Jemal Mohammed owns a five-acre, hillside farm outside the tiny hamlet of Fontanina in the Welo region of Ethiopia's northern highlands. It is in the heart of one of the centers of diversity that Nikolay Vavilov visited on his 1926 expedition.
Stepping foot on Mohammed's land is like tumbling back in time to an ancient way of farming. His circular, thatched-roof hut with walls of dried mud and straw is the same dwelling that has dotted Ethiopia's countryside for centuries. A pair of oxen lies to the right of the hut in the shade of a jacaranda tree. Three or four chickens strut across a bare front yard. His fields, tilled with an ox-drawn plough and planted by hand, are a jumble of crops: tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, gourds, sorghum, wheat, barley, chickpeas, and teff, a grain used to make injera, a flatbread.
There are those who talk about the importance of saving heirloom seeds and traditional knowledge, so that when industrial agriculture does break down we have something to fall back on. I say don't wait for catastrophe: start working on alternatives now! Our food supply shouldn't rely on a handful of cultivars of just three crops and it shouldn't rely on a handful of companies either.
And if you'll excuse me, I need to go tend to my heirloom tomatoes (I'll let the f1 hybrids take care of themselves today). Happy 4th, everyone!
The other day Harvey came into the kitchen waving a plastic ruler. "I'm fighting Rascal!" he announced excitedly.
"No you're not!" I told him. "Where'd you get that idea?!"
"On the table."
Well of course he meant the ruler came from the table, he being a child of no abstract ideas (he answers "yes" to any and all why or how questions). In any case on reflection I know where he got the idea: from his friends Ollie and Bruce. Ah, the dangers of hanging out with older kids.
(Dangers for Harvey, that is; I don't think he would emerge very well from a fair fight with the dog!)
A new family moved in around the corner from us around a year ago; maybe a little more. They're far enough away that we haven't met them properly, only heard about them from another neighbor who lives about halfway in between. The rumor was they were looking to get a horse—to stable a horse on their property, we understood—and certainly this spring they brought in chain saws and big trucks and took down some dozens of the big white pines that are apparently the climax vegetation here in our sandy bottomland. Tree removal is all the rage for new property owners, I guess. Some time later a foundation was dug and poured: was it to be a beautiful big horse barn?! No, I don't think any barn would have a footprint that irregular.
And indeed, once the prefab pieces showed up it became abundantly clear that, rather than an agricultural structure, what was rising behind the perfectly satisfactory dormered and additioned cape that fit so nicely on the lot was a new, giant, modular home. With bay windows and multiple modular dormers and, coming soon, a considerable porch in front. The siding is yellow and the shutters green, which is apparently the default offering around here (n=2).
As I said, the existing house was perfectly nice. But I'm sure the new owners had good reason to replace it; maybe it was rotting from within or something. That being said, I question the decision to go with a modular home. Not because I think there's anything necessarily wrong with building parts of a house off-site—if it speeds things up, so much the better! No, the problem is with modern house construction in general, whether the house is modular or custom built: cheap parts. Particle board walls, fiberglass siding, things like that. New big houses, if they're going to be at all affordable, need to be as economical on the outside as they are luxuriously decorated with oversized furniture from Jordans Furniture on the inside.
But really, why do folks need so much space?! Our neighbors have two kids; unless they're planning to keep the prospective horse inside I can't imagine what they're going to do with all those new rooms. And cleaning it all! When you have spaces in your house that you only use once a week (we could never entertain without our formal dining room!) it's too big. If you ask me.
I will now make a rhetorical leap and connect this tendency towards large homes with wider trends in American culture. Americans value quantity. When we go to the movies we want the big big sodas, to make sure we're getting our money's worth. And a good Italian place is one that knows how to pile on the pasta. Who cares if it's a little overcooked or if the soda is mostly ice (and also is just, you know... soda)! Similarly in housing. Big houses are good; they are fancy and respectable and let family members interact as little as possible. If some corners need to be cut quality-wise to make those square feet possible, so be it.
You can tell that I don't like it. Me, I can't live without beauty—or at least personality. Those fancy restaurants where they give you a tiny little portion of exquisite food? I'd eat there all the time if I could afford it. And I'd take a one-room cabin if it featured exquisite woodworking and real genuine muntins in the windows (and maybe a loft for the kids too). Failing that (since as you well know I can't afford it) I'll rejoice in the solid wood doors and hand-laid pine floorboard of our little old house. Also when we eat I'll serve small portions, thought I reserve the right to take seconds.
I'm happy when I see people getting excited about local produce because it's another way to reject what's cheap and abundant and barely acceptable and replace it with something that may be more expensive, but which is undeniably better. I'm not the only one who'd rather, for a certain sum of money, eat some really good tomatoes once and a while rather than industrial agriculture tennis balls. Maybe we're getting there. But in the meantime I still have to look at this ugly house going up every time that I walk around the corner.
Mama (while picking up baby Zion) : "Who's a sweety sweet angel face?"
Zion had his 2-month check up this week. 14lbs, 2oz, which means he's gaining about an ounce and a half a day. I know what you're thinking... why aren't you thinner, Leah? The answer is ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream.
Independence Day saw us enjoying the music and food at the Picnic in the Park in Concord, just like last year (and every year!). I find that in the linked post I talked about Fourth of July as a joyous summer festival to be celebrated regardless of one's precise feelings about "patriotism"; the same subject is covered with more style and at greater length in this post from the New Agrarian blog, which I highly recommend.
This year Harvey was big enough to go in the bouncy house:
He didn't bounce except when he was impelled upwards by the motion of the bigger children around him—he didn't even manage to stand up, in fact!—but he had a great time.
Recent days also saw the first Parlee Farms blueberry picking expedition of the summer.
We met friends there, so it wasn't the hard, focused work experience our picking trips are usually (but we did get some serious picking out of the way before they showed up). Six quarts should take care of the blueberry jam production needs for the summer, if we ever get around to making it; so far our busy social calendar has prevented.
We also saw some animals at the farm.
I emailed some friends this afternoon, all like "It's been a long while since we've hung out. You want to get together over the weekend?"
Minutes later I got a reply: "We're leaving for Germany tomorrow. Dinner tonight?"
As in, leaving and not coming back. They're German, these friends, and I kind of knew they were leaving some time this summer but I had thought, well, that it would not be so tomorrow-ish. Of course I had two immediate thoughts: 1) Thank God we found out in time to get together one last time, and 2) What kind of a going away present can I make for two kids in one hour?
Luckily, I know of a toy that can be completed in a single nap time with moments to spare for wrapping and packing a diaper bag. I'm talking about a bunny ruby.
This one from a sock that wasn't so much used as sat in the bottom of the drawer for a year being too small. This little bunny will head off with 2-year-old Noah to Germany tomorrow. If he finds a place in the luggage, that is. If not, he only took 45 minutes and after all it's the thought that counts.
And for the baby girl born on the same day as Zion?
A pink sunhat, completed a few days ago, and luckily too, since this 4-hour project wouldn't have fit into this afternoon's sewing allotment. Okay, so this hat was actually supposed to be for my niece, but I have a whole nother week before her birthday and more of this fabric. Baby Nala's boarding a plane tomorrow and I wouldn't want the sun to get in her eyes.
We traveled to Cambridge this evening to picnic on the floor of our friends' empty apartment. It's sad when people go away. I cope by making presents and Dan copes by making food, and if my silly little gifts don't do enough to say 'we'll miss you' then I can absolutely count on his brownies to do the trick. But golly, it's hard having international friends.
A very large pile of lumber arrived at our house this week.
It looked like a big job, for sure, but as we learned in church this weekend "the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in [your] hand." (Zechariah 4. Dave interpreted the verse much more helpfully than what I got from reading Zechariah on my own last week, which was "blah, blah, blah, blah I saw some weird stuff, blah blah." But I digress.)
On Saturday my dad came over and did the very important task of cutting all the 12-foot posts in half. Then him, Dan, and Harvey put in something like 6 lengths of fence.
Our Bible Study crew (God bless them!) all came over on Sunday to continue the work. The men worked hard from afternoon till evening.
...while the ladies rested in the shade and, er, took care of our babies. Yeah, that's what we were doing. Women's work. That's the ticket.
The menfolk hit a bit of a snag around the bushes where the ground is rockier and uneven. Harvey had fun being around the guys and playing in the bushes, thought. Two of his most favorite things!
Around 5pm us women left for an hour to walk the dog and children, and when we came back to find work still pursuing apace we realized more food would be necessary, so we threw together a mad scramble dinner amidst the din of fussing babies. For some reason it didn't occur to me in advance to plan two meals for this gathering... having already made a pasta salad for their lunch/snack, a big bowl of pasta was out of the question. After a few minutes of staring in panic at my pantry shelves I came up with cous-cous and veggies, glazed carrots, and chicken-cheese-quesadillas. The latter was made from chicken nuggets which I had in the freezer. It made me feel very mid-western to heat up some chicken nuggets, throw then into a wrap with some cheese and call it cooking. Ditto for chucking canned artichokes and chick peas into a box of instant cous-cous. But hey, dinner for 8 in 30 minutes made me feel very accomplished.
The best part? Waking up to this beautiful sight.
Of course, it doesn't fence anything in or out quite yet. After 28 man-hours this weekend we still have something like 2/3 of the fence to complete. Still, it's a LOT more fun when other people help.
Dan asked me if I could start hanging more laundry out on the line, and because he is my lord and master I consented. Otherwise I might not have. I mean, I'm on the same page with being more environmentally friendly and saving money and all that? But most mornings those two inches to the dryer are so much more friendly than those 20 stairs to the patio. Anyway, here it is, our morning load of laundry:
Yes, I wash diapers every 24 hours, and yes this is 24 hours worth. 30 diapers. Plus the inserts, wipes, and wet bags. Well, actually it's not ALL the wipes. Turns out we need more clothes pins.
Some day I'll look back on this period in my life and say, Wow.
It's been pretty dry and hot here for a while. Today I ensured a little bit of rain by watering the garden extensively and leaving my car windows open. Absolutely did the trick. I've been experimenting once again with not doing any watering beyond what's necessary to keep the transplants alive: it's a combination of laziness and not wanting to water unevenly. Because, you know, if I don't do it at all it won't be uneven.
So far, though, things are doing really well. Sure, the peas might have kept producing a little longer had they not been so parched, but then again it could have been the heat that did them in. We're harvesting zucchini now, and they're growing as vigorously as we could ever wish; cucumbers also are coming along nicely. Cucumbers are a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, and unless I'm very much mistaken it doesn't rain too much in the Middle East. Should be fine, right?
In all seriousness, I'm doing what I can to help the plants get by with minimal watering. They're mulched in some cases (though I'm using less mulching than last year, since I think that in some cases it slowed down ripening) and in others the leaf canopy itself keeps the ground shaded. And I'm keeping my eyes open for wilting: I watered the beans yesterday and most everything today. Of course, I did it very carefully, very low flow right at the roots. I made sure not to waste even one precious drop. Sure, rain less than an hour later kind of ruined the effect, but I'll take it. The cool air that came with it is nice too.
... not only because their practitioners end up wearing some weird looking garments.
When you're starting a new hobby like sewing it's so exhilarating. You can make ANYTHING. A wonderful world of possibilities opens up to you. Just grab a bit of cloth, cut out some shapes, whip em through a machine and viola! You've made a hat! You've never worn such a rewarding hat in all your life! It's incredible! You're really sewing! Now all you need to do is keep at it for a few years, and in no time at all you'll sit back and look at a closet filled with your own handiwork and think to yourself:
"That hat looks like crap."
Because what on earth was I thinking, cutting AGAINST the grain? Now the stupid hat doesn't stretch horizontally and it's all bunchy on top when I wear it. Once when I was in high school I was making a pair of pants as a girl-scout project, and in a fit of industriousness I thought I would pre-cut all my pieces before bringing them to my girl scout leader. You know, to save time in our sewing session. She spent the whole time shaking her head saying, "I can't BELIEVE you cut your fabric without talking to me first!"
And I was all, I'm not supposed to cut fabric without a chaperone? Sewing is unbelievably lame.
Now I look back on that experience and I am of two minds. On one hand I say, wow, that really turned me off sewing for a while. I wish I could have been given free range to be more creative and learn my own lessons progressively. On the other hand, what was I thinking cutting all my pieces out willy nilly? If I brought my current self those pieces now, I would be all, "I can't BELIEVE you cut your fabric without talking to me first!"
Religion is like that too. As helpful as it may be to your overall life happiness to, I dunno, read the bible or tithe or respect your husband, if someone tells you that in a you-must-do-this sort of way I'm all, "This religion stuff is lame."
It's only after years of having your life go poorly that you turn to your younger doppelganger and scream "For the love of God, PLEASE don't have PREMARITAL SEX!"
I find myself sometimes acting as a sewing killjoy these days, looking at my friends getting all excited about sewing and yelling "PREWASH YOUR FABRIC! PAY ATTENTION TO THE GRAIN! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T CUT THAT INTO QUILT PIECES IF YOU DON'T OWN A SEWING MACHINE!"
As if whole continents hadn't hand quilted just fine for hundreds of years without the aid of machines.
If I think handmade hats are ugly it's probably sin in me that tells me so, and I should certainly stop judging the quilts at church for being finished without bias tape. As for religion, there seems to be no good way to mind-meld our dogma onto other people, as helpful to them as that might be.
Those are producing these:
We're also eating a lot of these as pesto:
This one we didn't manage to eat last year, but now it's ornamental:
These are growing ever taller:
With the promise of something tasty soon!
Not pictured: zucchini, carrots, peppers, corn, beans, eggplant, collards, and chard. Some more successful than others. And check out that new fence!
Our small-group leader* has got us all on Google+. Or he wants to, anyways. So far it looks like it's just me. I feel like I'm at a party for really cool people and I don't know any of them; also it's really dark so I don't know where they are. Am I extending this metaphor too much? As of now, my "circles" are largely, sadly, empty.
I know we've done this before, but it feels special every time. Where else in my life do I find myself in such desperate pursuit of the "new hotness"? Actually, my pursuit is generally pretty lackadaisical, but here's an instance where I've actually managed to get on the ground floor. Sure, everybody else is already on the way up in the elevator, but close enough.
Some people are already complaining about the lack of anonymity inherent in Google+, but while I agree with them in principle, for me that's actually part of the draw. I hate being anonymous! I'm engaged in a constant effort to supplant all those other "Dan Archibald"s from the top of the Google search results, and giving Google yet more (carefully curated) personal information is a great way to forward that goal. That's also why I started signing my full name when I comment on blog posts, in case anyone was wondering. And look, it's working!! Sure, at the time of writing my best results are only numbers three and five, but we're getting there.
So yeah, Google+. Join up and friend me, or circle me, or +1 me; whatever they're calling it this time. My profile thingy is here.
*It's a Christian cult thing, if you're curious.
Not "had" it cut, which is what normal people do. No, when I suddenly decided I could not live one second longer with a heavy mass of ponytail tugging out my brain stem, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror with a scissors in hand and just cut it all off. Well, about 6 inches or so.
I felt like I was accessing my punk roots. You know, back from in the day when one did crazy things to one's appearance as a giant middle finger to the whole world of authority. Take this everyone! I'm just gonna cut all my hair off! It felt crazy! liberating! In reality, though, it's hard to feel punk for very long when you're giving yourself the exact same haircut as Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.
As a woman, you think that when you take a scissors to your own head something like an alarm should sound, or a safety latch should slam shut or something. But no, in reality scissors work like scissors whether on hair or paper, and cutting off 3 years of growth only takes 3 minutes or so, little enough time that Zion and Harvey took no notice of my absence. In addition to the money objection (fifty bucks for a trim? give me a break!) I haven't gotten a haircut since Harvey was born because of the time suck of it all. You have to make an appointment, wait for an additional 30 minutes while they're finishing up with the previous client, then shampoo, cut and blowdry and I never get out of there in less than 2 hours. Also, I have a microscopic bald spot on the back of my head that the rest of my hair covers, but if anyone new is cutting my hair the moment they discover it their face goes dark like I have the flesh-eating plague.
Dan has this theory about the cult of the professional in our society, that Americans have lost the ability to do anything for themselves unless they do it with massive amounts of money and information. Hence the rise of the $100 tomato and $2400 chicken coop. Or cook's illustrated with "the best" blueberry pie recipe, or the Gardener's supply catalogue with a "scientifically superior" composter that can hold like seven leaves at a time. Since we embrace the amateur endeavor over here, shouldn't it be a radical homemaking step to cut my own hair? Power to the people?
No, that's giving me far too much credit. The truth is rather less flattering... that last night I was half-way to a mental breakdown with the stress of a baby and a two-year-old and the unrelenting heat and trying to get my head around an upcoming 8-hour car trip, and when I get stressed out I get terrible problems with sensory integration, and in that state the pain of my hair pulling at my scalp is like ABSOLUTE TORTURE I can not even describe how painfully irritating it is, you think everything in your life might be FIXED if only YOUR HEAD COULD STOP HURTING, WHERE IS THE GODDAMN RAZOR?! In those moments I know exactly why Britney Spears shaved her head the moment she did, why she had to do it late one night before she drove home to her 2 babies. I completely get that. Because some days parenting makes you literally crazy, and those are days when you get surprised that scissors actually still work.
Nah. For all my crazy exposition I still look like a suburban housewife, just with slightly shorter hair.
We're getting ready to leave on Friday for our annual camping adventure. Super exciting; the only bad part is missing some vital harvesting time. The squashes and cucumbers are coming in fast and furious, and beans are starting to get going. The picture above is just one day's take, although as you can tell from their size I could have picked those zucchinis a couple days earlier. I prefer to wait until I have a big load of produce to make an impressive picture.
Among the thousand things to do tomorrow is pick everything that can be picked and preserve what I can manage to preserve. We'll see. I only hope the tomatoes wait until we're back before ripening!
I love preserving... in theory. Leah knows that it takes some encouragement to actually get me going on making jam or pickles: it's such a big production, especially in this crazy heat. For example, I want to make pickles before we leave tomorrow with the cukes I picked the other day, but I haven't done it yet. And dill pickles are super easy! We were planning to leave early tomorrow but something came up, and now we won't be able to leave the house until after nine; so of course I jumped on the excuse and declared I'd do em in the morning. "Then we won't have to deal with the steam in the house, because we'll be leaving!" That would work even better if I hadn't also deferred 17 other tasks. It'll be a busy morning, but that's only right for about to leave on vacation.
In my defense, I did make bread and two batches of pesto and chocolate chip cookies (with Leah's help), and we've packed up more than half of the items on our two-page, two-column-to-a-page checklist. So I'm not a total disaster.
A few Harvey pics came off my phone as I added some new music for the trip.
We're back from our longest-ever camping adventure: 5 nights. We almost didn't make it! The house sure feels big this evening (I say big and empty, Leah thinks big and full off stuff). Harvey was very unhappy when we pulled into our street; I think he was hoping against hope that we were going to find somewhere else to put up the tent. He did enjoy the recollection that home is full of toys, though, and also the spaghetti for dinner. It's a bit easier to boil water on the stove than over a campfire, we find.
We got back this week after 6 days, 5 nights of vacation, and Dan has sworn that he'll never take me camping ever again.
Look, I love our yearly Maine vacation. I love hiking, swimming, and playing by the ocean. I love going out to breakfast and hanging out with my family.
I don't love sleeping in a clammy tent, holding my pee all night so I don't have to walk to the bathroom, or trying to find the most comfortable way to nurse a baby in the front seat of a car. There isn't one, by the way... a comfortable way to nurse a baby every hour in a crammed-with-stuff front seat of a car.
And I don't love worrying whether everyone is warm enough, or protected from sunburn, or having a good time.
I don't go on vacation to be comfortable, though. I go to make memories, to tick off each changing year, to remind us that we as a family can do big things together, like scale a mountain with a 5-week old, or a 13 month old, or a 2-year old and 2-month old.
Sure, I don't have fun camping, but I don't particularly have fun doing a lot of things. Cooking, folding laundry, visiting with my extended family. And yet I'm mostly glad having cooked, or having folded laundry, or having a family visit behind me. There's something good in lots of things that aren't fun all the time. It's good to come back from the tent to a house that's bigger, nicer, more appreciated than ever.
It's good to see my boys grow up, get bigger and more capable and more like their father each year.
I'll be sad to see them go without me.
Perhaps not an entirely fair comparison, since we took Harvey camping for the first time at 5 weeks whilst Zion had all of 2-and-a-half months to prepare for his photo shoot, but here they are anyway side by side, each baby's reaction to his first camping trip:
While there is something distinctly "Harvey" about the first face and something distinctly "Zion" about the second, I still think: my goodness! don't my children look like each other!