posts tagged with 'hippy'

What happens after you get everything you want?

We have been running a free summer camp at our home this summer. It is lovely. The children are doing great. They are learning new skills, testing their physical limits, and improving their hand-eye-coordination. They are growing in bravery, growing their friendships, and problem solving all sorts of mechanical and social situations. The adults who stay and sit on our lawn drinking while I serve them coffee and try to entertain their babies? They get an informal support group twice a week. They feel immediately understood when they share about just how all-encompasingly difficult this time of life is.

For me this is the closest to "living out a calling" that I've ever experienced. People come to my house, and I find a way to fulfill a deep need that's been eating them up inside. In this case, the need for free childcare that doesn't make them feel like they're betraying their hippy morals. Plus I get to make coffee, lots and lots of coffee, and if someone forgets their lunch my Jewish nature is fulfilled by finding something in the kitchen that I think they might like to eat.

We are living the panacea — giving ourselves to others and seeing positive results.

Also, quite often I'm really miserable.

The moment a child smiles at me because something clicked in her brain and she finally "got" basket weaving? That's followed by a moment in the kitchen handwashing a stack of dishes and cups. And let's be honest, the breakfast dishes and the muffin tin too, especially if some campers showed up an hour early and I didn't have time to bus the morning table. My bathroom? It smells like a camp bathroom. Wet bathing suits leave marks on every conceivable surface in my living room. Sometimes kids cry and I am default mama to them. Sometimes my own kids cry because they are over-extended and they just want everyone to leave their house.

What happens when you find yourself living the life you wanted and it kind of sucks?

I have been thinking about this question for a while, as I see other friends finally "making it" to their callings, not just 'good jobs' but the thing they always imagined they wanted to do with their lives. Smart do-gooder friends finally work for the government. Missionary friends go overseas and find their unwashed masses. Friends who always wanted a baby finally adopt the perfect child God prepared for them from the foster care system.

These people, they tell me that they are sooooo incredibly blessed at this moment. God has come through and given them everything! Everything he put on their hearts to desire! And then they tell me their complaints. The first is how God-awful TIRED they are right now. Oh my goodness, I would LOVE some coffee, yes, I've just switched from two cups a day to three. Also, money is a little bit of a stressor right now. I just had no idea how much I'd need to spend on parking / bribes / advocate services / dinners out. And I cannot even tell you about the paperwork. Reams and reams of paperwork. Just when you think you are finished with one round, there's another email in your inbox / letter in the mail / lawyer at your door with a dozen forms you have to fill out EXACTLY PERFECTLY.

And it's not that God didn't come through. He sure came through fo rus - he gave us what we wanted. He just didn't change the entire world underneath us while he was at it. He gave us our dreams and made them reality. It's just that we now have to live our dreams in the context of reality. And reality tends to be chaotic and frustrating. Other people make difficulties of us. Not to mention the weather.

Also, he didn't magically give us new selves either. I was a little tired and frustrated before, when I was stuck inside a cubicle making money at a job I hated. Now I'm living my calling as someone who's (who'd have guessed it?) a little tired and frustrated. My friends and I, perhaps we thought that living the life we dreamed would magically make us the people we dreamed of being. We saw another missionary and he looked happy, and we thought it was the mud hut and all that time in the sunshine. We didn't think that probably he was the type of person who was happy to begin with.

I am not knocking dreaming. Life takes dreaming. I am just saying some of us put a lot of eggs in a single basket.

So what are my dreams now? Now that life is wonderful and I still remain stubbornly human? I dunno, different ones. Bigger ones. I'll never learn. But I also have small dreams too, now. Sandwich sized-dreams. Literal dreams of sandwiches. To give me practice getting what I want and not taking it so disappointed.


Elijah's first bike trip as cargo

I took a break from bike transportation for the better part of over a year, in order to raise a third child. There are some stupid rules in our state about babies under one not going on bicycles. This is not a blog post about that, because that would be an angry anarchist rant. Instead, this is a blog post about hope. The first bike trip with me and three kids altogether.

setting off!

From a test drive in our home street yesterday we learned that Elijah likes riding in the blue bike. I thought I'd start with a sort ride up to the bagel store to see if he'd stay buckled in. It's not a 5-point harnas, but he stayed still with the lap belt.

Young biker happily eating a bagel. You can see our bike through the store window, a totally unintentional but beautiful selfie staging.

After fueling up with bagels and milk, the boys decided they could take on a ride further afield, down the bike path towards Billerica.

look at him go!

We went about half a mile to a playground we remembered from two years ago, at the abandoned Coast Guard housing.

grass growing around the play structure is eerie yet kind of nice

The 20 small single family homes have stood empty for years, since the Coast Guard cleared out. It's a colossal waste of infrastructure in a town that desperately needs more affordable housing, but this is not an anarchist rant.

empty neighborhood

On the ride home Elijah had some things to rant about. He was desperate to fall asleep, and couldn't find a comfortable position. Poor thing. The trip was proof of concept that he can stay in the bucket, but not that he can sleep comfortably in it.

Lijah sleeping slumped forward in the blue bike

not the most comfortable sleeping position. The lap belt around his waist is holding him in.

Hopefully this is just the start of a very freeing summer. Here's my happy face selfie. It smiles at the future.

biking selfie. No helmet, i know i know.


historical reenactment homemaking

You probably know this about me, but I hate and fear many aspects of modern existence. Plastic wrap, for example. Who decided it would be a good idea to cover food with a 12.5 micrometer film of PVC? And yet it now seems indispensable for so many kitchen applications, from wrapping up leftovers to gift-wrapping decorative cookie plates. Me, I used it most in baking: wrapping balls of pie dough or gingerbread, or covering the bread as it rises. And then one day I got to wondering: how did folks handle those needs before the first half of the 20th century, when plastic wrap was invented?

The question led immediately to its answer, which was—I say without any research or actual knowledge, but also without doubt—that they covered things in cloth. Wet cloth, to keep the dough from drying out. So I started doing that instead. It feels so much nicer! I don't know that any chemicals from plastic actually leach out into food, but to me at least plastic wrap is just not pleasant stuff. Plus there's the issue of the energy and raw materials that go into making and transporting it, and then again into disposing of it (how many of you recycle your plastic wrap?). An old cotton napkin from the rag bin doesn't have any of those issues.

I can see why, even hearing my process, some people would totally still be into plastic wrap. Compared to its perceived sterility, a wet rag might seem distressingly permeable to germs, or even somehow dirty in its own right. But keeping our bread dough—or our leftovers—sterility is a pretty modern problem; and with all due respect to modern medicine is not one that should loom particularly large in our consciousness. Under cotton my bread can breathe as it rises, and I'm sure it's better for it. That I'm following the example of countless generations of homemakers before me only improves my appreciation of the method.


dummy and dummyer

I crossed a new threshold in my parenting yesterday. I was out walking the dog and carrying Elijah. He started getting fussy to go to sleep but he didn't want to nurse. I pulled his new pacifier out of my pocket, noticed it was covered in lint, and without thinking stuck it in my own mouth to suck off the offending debris. I've done a lot of things in the past five years, but this was the first time I swallowed lint to clean off a kids' toy.

I don't imagine it will be the last.

Neither of my first two children used a pacifier. There is some vague anti-dummy prejudice in hippy-land, maybe because pacies are associated with scheduled feedings, or perhaps just because they're plastic and they make kids look vacant. Perhaps I was even proud once to have kids who didn't NEED dummies. If so, it was a fake bitchy kind of pride. Because there have been moments in my parenting of all my babies when I've tried putting EVERYTHING in their mouthes to find ANYTHING stop the crying. It's just that last week when it was Elijah's teething turn, he was the only one who instead of saying "Pleh pleh" to the pacie took it in his mouth and said, "Yes, yes! A thousand times yes! Where have you BEEN all my life, sucking without food???"

And in retrospect, there's no reason to be proud of a child who nurses for comfort until he vomits (Harvey) or whose teeth are already bucking forward from the constant pressure of a thumb (Zion). Elijah has the unique distinction among my children of being way ahead in gross motor skills and behind in fine motor, which means he can't reliably get his fingers in his mouth and hates the sensation of his belly overfilled. A child who self-regulates calorie consumption? Now that's something to be proud of! Bring on the dummy!

When he first showed interest in such sucking it was with a pacifier we've had in the fridge for the past 5 years. Unfortunately Elijah's lack of coordination meant I had to hold it in his mouth for an hour while he calmed down. That same night I called Dan who was at Mrs. Katie's house for bible study. "Ask Katie if she has an extra one of those pacifiers attached to animals!" I said in a voicemail, and then in a text, and then on the phone when he called me back wondering what the emergency was. "For the Love of God, I need a pacifier that's easier to hold! Two days Amazon Prime is TOO LONG TO WAIT!!!"

Thankfully Mrs. Katie is a veteran of wubs, and Elijah was soon the proud owner of an adorable monkey. (Katie and Tim and Nathan, I cannot say thank you enough. You saved my week with a feverish, teething, car-riding baby.)

hiking monkey

I post this photo that shows that even when he's being held all attachment parented or whatever, nursing on-demand and blah-dee-blah, still Elijah wants that wub. Shouldn't that be enough? Shouldn't we just give our children what they want?

I am ashamed that I feel the need to write this post to justify my choices, as if I want a public exemption from hippy policy in the case of the pacifier. Of course this is ridiculous. If my concept of a perfect baby-hood or childhood doesn't include things that are uniquely necessary to my children, then my concept is useless and destructive. I'm thinking about you, legos. And you too, iPad. I hope I'll be brave enough to parent my children based on what they need, rather than what I think looks good in a blog post or a facebook photograph. Elijah, get on with your pacie-sucking self. I love whatever makes you happy.

Harvey and Zion, this is me giving you more grace regarding the legos on the floor. And MAYBE the iPad, we'll see.


hairy decisions

It's been over two years since the last time I shaved any of the hair on my body. At the time I thought going natural was a BIG DECISION. Now I think that's stupid. What a loser society we live in if the choice to sport leg hair or not feels like a defining factor of identity.

I didn't have any hippy rhetoric floating around my head when I said, "Forget it, I'm done shaving." I just had two very young and needy kids and I didn't feel like taking any longer in the shower. This was after I had dreaded my hair, so my shower times had already plummeted. I saw not shaving as the low-hanging-fruit of life hacking my way to sanity. Mornings are sometimes tough, but I'm a person who feels better about myself if I have a quick shower before I get dressed. It's a nice thing to put a baby in a playpen, hop in the shower, and be out and dressed before he notices you're gone.

If my husband had said, "Ew! leg hair!" I would have relented, but he assures me he's not that type of guy. Also I keep him on a short string by making sex a rarity. It's the same technique I use with my kids regarding screen time. They don't get it very often, so they f-ing LOVE cooking documentaries.

But back to not shaving...

Two years with body hair, I can say that this has been mostly a positive experience. Not a groundbreaking one. Just, like, a slight life improvement. It saves me time and nobody has stopped being my friend because of it. It turns out it's not life shattering when some women choose to have leg hair.

Although I will say one thing.

I carry our cultural beauty standards around in my head as much as other people do. When I look down at my own legs I sometimes have a moment of "Ew, is someone gonna clean that up?" The underarm hair was much quicker for me to accept, because I see beautiful women in other societies doing that. And because armpits are not that pretty with shaving bumps either. But legs do give me a moment of pause. The first few times I went to the gym in shorts I was rather self-conscious. But I got over that quickly because I no one is really looking at you at the gym. I do notice that I choose to wear long skirts when I go to a gathering of people I don't know. Church is a long-skirt place for me, as are small groups and parties. It's partly that I don't want someone to be taken aback by my leg hair, and partly because that's what I wear to look fancy. I also wear shorts at the beach to hide my pubic hair, but dressing for the beach is a whole 'nother issue for women, am I right?

Mama and Elijah in the rocking chair on the porch, both smiling for the camera

happy times

Can you see it? Can you see the disgusting abomination of follicles?

They say that blogging is navel gazing, and these 500 words about the hair on my body really drive that point home. Still, I hope it's helpful for some aspiring hippy who's wondering, "Dare I do it? Will my life be plunged down a slippery slope of dishevelment?" The answer is probably yes, but it won't be a big deal. You'll see. Two years will go by and you'll barely even stop to write about it.



We're diapering in cloth and growing our own food. We're sewing patches onto our clothes until we all look like hobos. We're biking all the places we can bike and walking everywhere we can carry our groceries back. Or at least we're trying to do these things. At least in intention, from the environmental, anti-capitalist angle, we are totally a family working towards sustainability.

And yet, there are many things in our lives that are not sustainable.

My level of energy, for example. That's not sustainable. My bouts of sewing and cleaning where I stay up past ten every night and wake up at five in the morning for early morning exercise. "This is working!" I tell myself, "This is working!" for weeks on end. Until my mouth fills with cold sores and I start mainlining garlic to drain the fluid out of my ears.

Or my level of eating, that's not sustainable. The thousand extra calories I stress eat at 3pm in the afternoon because the emotional needs of three children are just SO GREAT. Or for no reason at all, just because we have a costco-sized bag of chocolate chips and I'm tired. I cannot run 5 miles every day to burn it off, no matter what time I wake up in the morning. There are knees to consider. The knees need to sustain me for the next 60 years, and I cannot pound them away on my whim, no matter how much I'd like to punish the rest of me.

Then there is the issue of birth control, because seriously? Having infinite children is not sustainable. But what do you do (really, I'm asking you, you what do you do?) when you're breastfeeding forever, and you don't want a surgical permanence, and you're afraid of migraines from hormones, and you think spermicide might be a neurotoxin. Not the FAM method, that's how religious people get pregnant. I've been thinking about a copper IUD, and then I read a 50-page Mothering forum about how they can cause panic, depression and anxiety. But then I think: yeah, so could another pregnancy.

Unsustainability. I know it intimately.

Yet in life, as in capitalism, as in our rampant destruction of the environment, unsustainable practices have their own momentum. We continue with them day after day after day because life has to go on, because we can't think of a better solution that takes exactly the same number of minutes as the current solution, because there are only so many minutes in the day and changing our habits takes thought and energy and work.

And I think "someday this will change," and I use the passive voice when I make that declaration.

Each phase ends, yes, and I should have compassion on myself, and one day we won't be needing so many diapers. But by then we'll be needing a LOT MORE snacks, and there will always be new and different needs. It's not sustainable for me to say, "I'm just gonna ride this out," blaming my lack of personal and corporate responsibility on my children and their sleep schedules and the availability of bulk baking products from costco.


hippy progress

a pint jar of cooked black beans on the table

not canned, jarred

I often claim to be some kind of a hippy homesteader type—at least, that's how we have it in our blog description thingy—so it's to me great shame to admit that, for the vast majority of my life, whenever I wanted to make something with beans I'd just open a can. It's horrible, I know. Even many months after reading An Everlasting Meal (mentioned previously) I couldn't manage to get going on dried beans. Part of the problem was one failed recipe a couple years ago; those black beans were so disgusting I couldn't face trying again for quite a while.

But now I wonder what the problem ever could have been, because as most of you probably could tell me, dried beans aren't any hard. They take a long time, sure, but almost no effort or attention at all; just like I always tell people about bread, only more so. I am now converted, and will be working solely with dried beans from here on out (with the possible exception of a few cans of chick peas for any sudden hummus cravings). One key to avoiding canned beans will be saving some cooked beans in the fridge at all times against the inevitable moment when Zion asks for "beans and rice and cheese and tortilla and sour cream to dip", which he does just like that because his requests lately are more often than not rote recitations. You can't imagine how many times we've heard "a little bit of warm apple juice and a lot of warm cold water warmed up in a bottle with a top." Really you can't. And yes, he does (this week) say "warm cold water".

Last week I made pot of chili with dried beans, and I also used some of the tomatoes we canned in the summer. It felt pretty good: our chili recipe, which used to result in four or five tin cans headed to the recycle bin, was made without producing any landfill waste at all. With the recent seed order I'm ready to go even bigger next year; just ask Leah how excited she is about having even more tomatoes to put up! And I don't know what sort of yield we'll get on dried beans, but we'll have Black Turtle and Vermont Cranberry growing, along with Kentucky Wonder pole beans which, I learned recently, can also be used dry as soup beans. Just the thing for when the poles are so tall you can't pick the beans at the top until you take the whole thing down in the fall!

All that is to say: while while we're still struggling (or in some cases not struggling) with other marks of hippy shame, I can now report that, if nothing else, at least I know how to soak beans.


food that looks better than it tastes

Sometimes I fear I have too many food choices. Maybe my life would be simpler and easier if I weren't faced with a taste / healthiness / hunger decision matrix three to five times every day. Sometimes I think of Laura and Mary eating turnips all winter and I think: well, at least they knew what to expect.

sweet potato grilled cheese with avocado and kale

I followed a link-bait headline last week titled "47 grilled cheese sandwiches that are better than orgasms" or something like that. For obvious reasons it made me really want to make a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. This one is a mix of steamed sweet potato, pureed with mozzarella and american cheese. I put that on both slices of homemade bread and piled on kale and avocado in between. Sounds like it should have been good, right?

Well it wasn't. I should have sauteed the kale first, because the whole thing tasted like straight-up bitter. I opened it after the photo to add salt and pepper, which improved the taste enough to be edible. Still, it was not even marginally as good as an orgasm. Maybe it was the bitterness, or the sweet potato and cheese is just too heavy together. The kids barely touched their sweet potato and cheese sandwiches, though they liked eating the sweet potato cheese mixture straight out of the bowl. Go figure.

You know what else the internet is nuts for these days? Pancakes that aren't really pancakes.

egg and banana 'pancakes'

If you see a blog post titled "two ingredient pancakes" and the two ingredients are eggs and bananas? Don't trust that shit. I've been trying to make these things for months, and they always come out like fried ideals: lacking in something and in dire need of firming up.

On one end of the heat spectrum, eggs and bananas make a hot runny mush you can pretend is oatmeal if you get too tired of cooking it. Turn the heat just a little higher and they make a burned-at-the-edges banana-tasting omelet. On their own these two ingredients do not make anything that in any way resembles a pancake.

If you add some baking powder and powdered peanut butter, you can get something that kind of approaches pancake stability. It still doesn't brown up unless you add A LOT of the powdered stuff, but hey powdered peanut butter is good for ENERGY! These ones below were cooked for approximately a billion minutes on either side, and some of them came out resembling pancakes. The ones a little farter to the edge of the pan were more mushy. They all had a lot of ENERGY, though.

no flour pancakes in various stages of firmness, based on centimeters away from flame

Truth be told, I added some avocado to the mix just to mess with my stomach first thing in the morning. I mean... to up the superfood content of the most important meal of the day. Just kidding, it was to try to make the buggers stick together better. Doesn't this just look like an ingredient list of champions?

pancake ingredients

These pancakes take a long time to cook, and they're really only palitable when you eat them super hot. So there's a lot of waiting around, and then a quick rush to scarf down four tiny pancakes. Then two more rounds of this on repeat. In the end, it's a good way to consume two eggs, a banana, half an avocado, and a serving of peanut butter while still feeling like you didn't actually GET THAT MUCH FOOD.

pancake mix on the right, next to breakfast shake on the left.

I had to make a breakfast shake while I was waiting for my pancakes to cook because I was too hungry.

Next time I want to eat a healthy breakfast, I think I'll have some avocado on my toast alongside a single fried egg. Gluten-free isn't worth this much, if this much is an extra 300 calories plus half an hour of cooking time.

I don't know why I'm letting the internet complicate my food choices. Perhaps I consider myself a modern day Ponce de Leon, searching for some magic concoction of energy dense / low calorie / fulfilling nutrition that doesn't require too much time to prepare or dishes afterwards. Perhaps February is just a boring time for eating, or perhaps I have greater problems in my life that I am avoiding by trying to tweak my intimacy with grilled cheese. Either way, don't follow me down this route. If you're bored or overwhelmed with your food options, consider eliminating from them fancy grilled cheese and no carb pancakes. The answer isn't there.


Let's stop fetishizing our choices

Today I finished some Waldorf dolls I've been working on, I played pretend with my kids, I helped them do a painting project and led Harvey through the construction of a tool box out of cardboard.

I also let them watch Thomas for an hour while I took a nap.

In the evening I made homemade risotto which took an hour of stirring, but in the middle of my cooking Zion asked for mac and cheese, so I made him the noodles from a prepackaged mix. He and Harvey ate mac and cheese while Dan and I ate risotto. We all ate a little bit of broccoli, and the boys ate carrots, and everyone had melon and crackers for dessert. This was a step up from lunch which was clementines served next to popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

If I put together a photo blog for today, I would show the Waldorf dolls and the cardboard creation. If Dan were blogging he'd show the risotto. There wouldn't be a picture of my kids running around naked before dinner, shooting each other with imaginary guns. There wouldn't be a picture of me lying comatose on the bed while my kids cycle through every Thomas we've downloaded to the iPad. Why would I take pictures of those things? They don't make me look very good.

Let's stop fetishizing our choices, people. Or rather, let's stop fetishizing the good half of our choices that we want the internet to think represent 100% of our choices.

Because I was thinking of blogging those Waldorf dolls (which I'll do another day) and I feel like it sets the bar unfairly high. I don't want anyone to think that I'm some sort of hippy superwoman who always talks gently to her kids and absolutely ADORES doing crafts with them. Because in reality the cardboard toolbox was a negotiation DOWN from running to Michael's for a new supply of clay to recreate every single character from Shawn the Sheep (including the fence and the house, which I stupidly nodded my assent to while I was on the phone.)

I'm just like you, other parents. I have my values and I have my ideals, but I'm also exhausted and in some moments I am not trying very hard. Remember that when you see the Waldorf doll pictures.


want not

Today I was in a fifth-grade classroom and one of the boys in the class had a rip in the seam of his sweatshirt's arm. At the beginning of the day he could put his hand through the hole down by the wrist of the garment, but by pushing his arm through and unpicking stitches with a pencil he pretty much undid the whole arm seam by the end of the day.

I really wanted to tell him to cut it out. I wanted to tell him that he had a perfectly good sweatshirt, and that if he left the hole alone it would be trivial to repair either on a sewing machine or by hand, and that his mother wouldn't want him ruining his clothes. All of which I'm sure are true—but in the case of the last, I don't think his mother will mind enough.

Almanzo Wilder wouldn't have made that hole bigger that's for sure! Part of the reason for that is that his mother would have killed him. Even though the Wilders were fairly well-off (in the story—I make no claims for real history) they were careful not to waste anything, and clothes were a considerable investment of time and effort as well as money. That's not the case now, at least for a fifth-grader in Lexington, so while it might be annoying to his parents to have to replace the sweatshirt—eventually, since I'm sure he has plenty of others—it's not that big of a deal. Some get ripped, some get stained, many get left at school forever to pile up in the lost-and-found. Clothes, like so many other things in our society, are pretty much disposable.

We've talked in church about cultivating a "spirit of abundance," as opposed to a "spirit of scarcity." There's a lot to be said for that way of thinking: it can keep us from hoarding our resources when folks around us are in need, and it can be tremendously liberating in letting us focus on more than just our immediate requirements. But looking at it another way, it's the spirit of abundance that's got us into the mess we're in now, where nationally and globally our resources are being stretched at the same time that we're having to find ways to dispose of ever larger quantities of "waste". When we feel—absolutely correctly, in the short term—that there's always more, there's no reason to be good stewards of what we have.

Me, I hate disposing of things (just ask Leah!). I have a sweatshirt, which is comforting; I want to continue to have it, so as not to have to find another one. Sometimes this way of thinking is too restrictive (and not just because it risks filling the house up with junk!). I collect awesome materials, but then have a hard time using them in projects—that would also be awesome—because I'm afraid I'll think of a better use for them later. That's no good at all: just what the Bible means with that "storing up in barns" verse. But on balance, I think it works out well for me. I don't waste things, and I really don't want very much. I cultivate a spirit of abundance within a spirit of scarcity (which I also have to cultivate: scarcity is hard to do around here these days!). It probably doesn't work for everyone, but it does alright for me.

And Harvey, you better not be making holes in your clothes on purpose!


christmas magic

For the past few days Harvey has been really excited about Christmas. REALLY. EXCITED. So excited that on Christmas Eve we could barely contain his excitement within our house, and I offered to take him to an indoor playground to run around, but he said No, he would prefer to run around the house, and just wait... for... christmas... to come.

In the evening when we got back from church Harvey helped Dan lay out the stockings on the couch. I reminded them to put out PowPow's stocking, since we had gone to the trouble of making it and all. (Never mind that I hadn't finished the presents for the PowPow stockings. Really, how long could two tiny teddy bears take?)

Harvey looked a little worried and confessed "I forgot to make a present for PowPow."

"Maybe the stocking will get filled magically," Dan said.

Harvey furrowed his brow and considered this statement. "I don't think magic is in our world," he said finally.

Later when I put Harvey to bed he repeated the story. "Dada says PowPow's stocking will be filled by magic."

"If you put out a stocking," I told him, "It will get filled."

"How?" he asked.

"Mama and Dada fill it. Mama and Dada make sure there are presents in every stocking."

"Oh." Harvey exhaled deeply and looked relieved.

Perhaps my explanation isn't festive enough — indeed some might accuse me of stealing all the magic away from Christmas. But I never grew up with Christmas traditions, so I don't have fond memories of fabricated gift origin stories. My current approach to Christmas is wonder within the context of reality. I don't know if the thought of magic elves in my living room after dark would make me feel more excited about the world, or more safe in it for that matter. Mama and Dada staying up till 11pm to make sure everyone has enough presents in their stocking? At least that's an explanation that lets my children know they're loved. Plus it's the truth. A truth, at least for me, that still feels alive with magic.

At least for me, homemade Christmas at our house was magical.

zion playing with a wooden chicken puzzle Dan made for him for Christmas

harvey hugging his new knitted sweater

the first time one of my children successfully wrote my name on a gift tag. Swoon.

The kids peeping out from their new play tent, which we had to coax them out of to open other presents

zion playing with his gingerbread action figure

I feel like we finally right-sized Christmas at home this year. We spent precious little on store-bought gifts: the boys got two books and a game, Dan got a new pair of Carharts and a calendar, and I got a thread organizer and thimble. The rest of our gifts were handmade. I made the boys some presents they were expecting (knit hats and sweaters) and some they weren't (a giant play house, and tiny teddy bears for their PowPow stockings.) Dan made some things that they had asked for (pickles, marshmallows) and some things that were completely surprising (wooden action figures with removable swords, shields, and standards.) Harvey made me a framed picture of himself and Dan made me a picture frame ornament, both of which made me cry. I made Dan a hat that I gave to him two months ago, because he needed it then, and some hand woven dish towels because we need more dish towels.

Some will read this and think that yes, I do not understand Christmas magic.

But as I was walking the dog this morning I passed a street called Colonial Ct, and I had this flash of an idea, a feeling of connection with our colonial ancestors who wove and knitted and whittled and baked up until Christmas day to bless their families and fulfill the desires of their hearts through the work of their own hands. It was a really lovely thought.

Of course, maybe our colonial ancestors would have killed for Amazon Prime. I am not an objective judge.

I do not get to control Christmas for my children any more than I control the rest of their lives. Their grandparents shower them with other gifts, and my version of Christmas is merely that, a version among many that they get to experience. In the same way, my ideal world is just an opinion. In the end they each get to choose how much magic they want, and where it comes from.

both boys in their christmas sweaters by Grandma's tree


too much Christmas spirit, the expensive kind

In the pitch black of yesterday morning, before my children were awake, I bought crafting supplies online while riding an exercise bike in the middle of my living room. JoAnn stores had emailed me that the out-of-stock hair clips I was looking for were suddenly in stock, and this needed immediate dealing with in order to turn out more embroidered hair clips by Christmas. But perusing all the other deals took a little bit of time, and in the end it stretched my work out session to 60 minutes when I had only planned 30. In some ways, this is the life I always dreamed of.

I also enjoy going out each morning to the freezing water tap to give the chickens new water. I like banging the ice off the edges of the waterer, and I like the little coos the chickens make as they greet me. In some ways, THIS is the life I always dreamed of.

I would like to feel calmly that one life enables the other, rather than that two ideal lifestyles are fighting to the death in my head.

I appreciate that technology has made it easier to live a simple life, one where I can spend more time reading to my children and less time taking them to horrible greed-inducing stores where there are TVs playing everywhere. At the same time, I appreciate that technology has merely offered me convenience choices, en-lazying my decision making in turn. So my evaluation of environmental externalities (shipping and the like) as well as budget externalities (just $9 more to get free shipping!) is not improved by the ease and speed with which I can make online transactions.

And though I make a lot of things for Christmas (hair clips on order, weaving coming along, knitting progressing frightfully slowly), my $30 JoAnn order yesterday, on top of what I already spent at JoAnn last month, on top of what I plan to spend on fabric next week, doesn't exactly make me feel like a frugal pioneer.

Okay, so maybe I'm feeling just a mite guilty because Dan pointed out I spent a little extra money these past two months. Okay, like, a thousand extra moneys. And I knew it was true, and I tried to get around it by saying "I'm paying the midwife!" and "Our freshly painted hallway has birds on the wall!" when in reality I know exactly where the money's gone.

Because in reality I was ordering disposable diapers off Amazon just because I was so damn tired of washing four pairs of pants every day. And buying expensive hippy laundry detergent at the grocery store (shame the lack of bargain) because every day I swear I'll get out the lye and make my own laundry soap and every day I clean the kitchen and go to bed early because there are more things to do the next day that require sleeping in the interim. And spending $100 cash over my food budget every month because pineapple and grapes twice a week, though they're horribly expensive and not in season, keep Zion from getting constipated without a daily toddler tantrum brought on by a lecture on the digestive system that sounds like "blah blah blah NO MORE CHEESE!"

In other words, in my life right now there are a lot of physical chores and difficult conversations that I can avoid for the low low cost of $500 a month. It's not sustainable or morally desirable, but given the right combination of hormones and exhaustion I find I'm ready to opt into that convenience.

What this sounds like is a confession with uncertain repentance. Of course I want to go back to my normal frugality, it's probably a virtue and all, but I'm planning to go to the feed store today, and after the feed store comes our monthly trip to the kid crafting cafe Dabblers and the opportunity to spend $15 on a very small lunch. And I'm already feeling rise in my throat the horrible guilt over buying prepared food, mixed with the sweet sweet anticipation of pulled pork.

I have a lot of aspirations for my life. I want to live my values, and to serve God in whatever He's doing. I can't do that well if I give into every temptation to make life easier. Nor can I do it if I'm stressed and overwhelmed and yelling at my kids to leave me alone so I can cut them a day's worth of fruit.

I don't actually know the answer...


The best thing since modern convenience

When we're out and about in the world at large we're pretty recognizable as a stereotypical "hippy" family. There's my hair, sure, and the fact that my children aren't wearing shoes half the time. But even when I'm not tied up in an organic cotton Ergo I've still got a pretty big hippy signifier: a big bag filled with big cloth diapers.

The bag has got to be big, of course, because a clean cloth diaper takes up as much space as five disposable ones, and a wet cloth diaper takes up as much space as a candlepin bowling ball. A soggy candlepin bowling ball. A soggy candlepin bowling ball that may or may not have the distinct odor of feces.

Not to overstate the obvious, but when you're out and about with a dirty cloth diaper you can't DISPOSE of it immediately. So a trip to church may earn me a heavy purse filled with several soggy cotton candlepin bowling balls.

I often think I am a poor candidate for a hippy lifestyle because I have a low tolerance for the disgusting. Yeah I like not washing my hair and not wearing makeup, but mostly because I'm lazy and I already have a poor opinion of my appearance. It's not like I have a "back to nature" aesthetic or anything like that. I hate germs. I don't like the smell of dirty. I yelled at the kids for playing in the water pooled in a public drinking fountain until Dan chastised me for acting crazy.

All that is to say I don't love carrying a purse that smells like crap. I tolerate it because I love the environment, and because living my values is important, and because cloth diapers save like a hundred dollars a month or some similar figure approaching obscenity.

But I gotta work for that extra hundred bucks.

Because when Zion's awake he needs a diaper check every 30 minutes. If I miss a check and he pees twice in one diaper then he'll leak his pants. Or he might drink a big bottle of juice and pee once and leak his pants anyway. On a normal day he goes through about 10 diapers and three pairs of pants.

Yes, I do a lot of laundry.

But this isn't what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about my hippy holidays. Well, confess really. I want to confess about my hippy holidays.

Because sometimes, when I have a big outing scheduled and morning sickness is more than I can bear I say: "You know what? Fuck it! I'm taking a hippy holiday!" By which I mean a holiday FROM hippiness. Then I stuff my bag with five (tiny!) disposable diapers and throw the kids in the car without a care in the world. Because one disposable diaper? I don't have to check that thing for TWO HOURS! That's ten pounds in cloth diapers candlepin bowling ball years. (Yeah, I know that's a horrible mixed metaphor that doesn't make any sense. But you try sticking your finger in thousands of dirty diapers and coming up with something poetic to say about it.)

Then at the end of the day I feel both relieved and guilty and judgmental. Because yes a break is nice, but what am I, a half-assed fair-weather environmentalist? And seriously, you ladies using disposables all the time? You better be curing cancer in all those minutes not spent laundering urine soaked onesies.

And while I'm setting myself up for pillory here, I have another confession about toothpaste.

About a year ago I stopped using toothpaste. I was frustrated about buying toothpaste, the high cost of it and all, and also by the way it wears down your teeth and makes them sensitive. Really there were a bunch of anti-toothpaste arguments that I can't remember now. I should have written them down at the time. (Oh wait, look I did write about it at the time! EXACTLY a year ago, in fact! Oh I'm good.)

So I started brushing my teeth with only water, but the toothbrush absorbed a yucky mouth taste after a while. The solution I found was to use a drop of peppermint essential oil on the brush. This was highly refreshing, and it took me a year to go through a $6 bottle of essential oil. I'm not sure how much I was spending on toothpaste in a year, but I assume it was at least a tube every two months, at three-something a tube, which means over a year I cut the cost of brushing by 2/3. Not bad!

Then last week I ran out of peppermint. I brushed my teeth with water for a few days, and then I went to Whole Foods and I forgot to put the essential oil on the list. And then I brushed my teeth with water for a few more days and felt REALLY over the yucky mouth taste that had returned to my toothbrush. So I said fuck it, I'm taking a hippy holiday! Isn't there some dentist sample toothpaste around here somewhere?

And low and behold, in the bottom of the cabinet was a small tube of crest something-or-other. I put it on my toothbrush and it foamed up my mouth, and I had this revelatory experience like I was a thawed-out caveman encountering modern civilization for the first time. "This is how people brush their teeth? This is AMAZING! This foamy stuff gets your teeth SO CLEAN! It just goes in there and takes all that food and crap completely off! Like SOAP for your MOUTH!" And here I was flossing every day like a sucker!"

So yeah, whatever, I may look like a hippy but I'm really full of shit. Or to be more precise, filled with lovely, convenient, ecosystem-destroying chemicals.

Okay, tomorrow's Monday so I guess the holiday's over.


work-life balance

We have a lot to do around here. Me, I need to keep up with the gardening and weeding, on top of the long-term painting project and other vague home-improvement type things I have going on. Then there's the preserving that needs to be done this time of year, and the baking tat always needs to be done. Leah cooks and cleans and does laundry, and the kids, dog, and chickens need very occasional interventions from us as well. There are days when I have high hopes of working non-stop all day, moving seamlessly from one task to another.

That never happens, of course. For one thing I think I'm constitutionally incapable of that kind of focus—my way of doing things involves a lot of standing around dreaming and planning for three projects down the road. But it would also mean missing out on some fun times, too. And when it comes down to it, I think that I need plenty of hippy relaxing to balance out my homesteader hard working. We spent five hours or something at Springs Brook on Friday and almost that long visiting with friends Saturday; yesterday we biked to church (well over an hour longer than driving, round trip) then hung out with Grandma and Grandpa all evening.

The bicycle expedition was a great example of the value of not being too driven (haha, pun totally intended). We left ourselves plenty of time, and since there was no kids church Sunday we knew that if we were a little late it would even matter. Of course, since we're totally awesome cyclists we actually made the trip in much better time then we expected, but it still seemed pretty relaxing (mentally, that is; physically it was fairly taxing, especially for Leah on the big bike with the kids!). Even as we were riding Harvey was exclaiming at how much fun it was to be cycling in new territory: he commented a few times on how he really liked being able to see things from the bike that he wouldn't be able to from the car. After church, as we played in the playground, he told me to make sure we went home the same way, because he enjoyed the route so much on the way in.

Note that I am not saying that you, reader, need to take more time doing fun things and less time working—much less that I do myself. I would probably be safe working a little more and relaxing a little less. But you know, it's all good. Maybe each day has a different balance. Hopefully, we can all figure it out without stressing too much about it.


Level Up, Hippies

So, I bought a new bike.

proof that federal tax credits DO stimulate the economy

I was frustrated that I couldn't carry both kids by myself, that trips to Whole Foods were consigned to a two-parent operation, or worse, this B.S.:

unhappy in red

This is from an attempted trip to Whole Foods on 'earth day.' We got less than a quarter mile from our house when Harvey whined that he was tiiiiiired of pedaling, and the wagon rammed into my shin leaving a giant bruise. We aborted that mission and headed to Whole Foods in the car. Here are the little carbon suckers that day, acting like conscious consumption makes their poop not stink.

so much wrong with this picture, environmentally speaking.

Well no more! Omitting the fact that this bike shipped from Utah fully assembled, our trips to Whole Foods are now carbon neutral.

room for 4 kids, or 2 kids plus baby dolls and a lot of snacks.

The bike is made by Madsen cycles, a family operation for good and ill. (Good because the mom on the phone was very pleasant when I called to order my bike; ill because I never really got an order confirmation or a tracking number, and because the bike arrived a week later than they said it would.) It rides very well despite being too heavy to lift AT ALL even without children inside. But with 80lbs of kids in the back, it's still easier to pull than 20lbs of baby in the trailer. Two fewer friction-y wheels, I guess. Of course it's trickier to balance than with a trailer. I don't worry about balance when I'm riding, but when I stop at a light I use my strictest voice to command the children to keep their hands in the vehicle and not to sway AT ALL.

the ride is so sweet that Zion is chilaxin

Although we've only had it for a few days now, we've already ridden to some pretty cool places. Whole Foods (of course) but also Lexington center and Chip in Farm twice, and the second time our bike generated so much attention from the farmer that we got to help feed a calf!

the boys are supposed to be helping but mostly they're watching.

The most frequently asked question over the past few days has been: Did you just stick a big storage crate on the back of a bike? The answer is: wicked expensive No. The big blue crate is a custom-made plastic piece that is bolted onto a bike with a long tail and smaller back wheel. The plastic peaks up in the middle to fit the wheel. It's not like something you'd buy at The Container Store. It's sturdy as heck, with two rows of removable seats and four seat belts. I even took Dan for a ride in there and the thing didn't even creek.

this is what it looks like right before you pass me

The first day we got the bike Harvey didn't want to get out of the bucket, he kept asking me to ride up and down the street. Then when we got Zion in there too and took a spin around the block Harvey kept reaching over to hug him. Super adorable. Zion still throws a tantrum nearly every time we put his helmet on, but he has fun once we're going. And I have to remind myself, we'd have tantrums if we were driving in the car too. Biking is more enjoyable than driving a car.

Not to be outdone, Dan went to Bikes Not Bombs over the weekend and bought himself a new bicycle. Okay, it actually had nothing to do with being outdone, he didn't have a working bike to get him to and from his place of employment anymore. So while he picked out the cheapest model on the lot I watched the kids do some urb-ex and tried to keep them from eating trash bike parts off the ground.

exploring the back lot

You give them a couple days of lovely rides through the wooded countryside, and then all they want to do is play on a fire escape. Typical.

urban catalogue models. Cut it out, kids.


home barbering

The boys have never been to a barber in their lives, and Leah—never a frequent visitor to the salon since Harvey was born—eliminated any need for haircuts by dreading her hair nearly a year ago (by the way, she totally owes the world an update about that!). I've been the lone holdout, clinging to professional hair care despite hating to spend the money and never managing to make it to the barber until two or three weeks past when I absolutely needed a serious trim. I also just felt like a bad hippy; what, I could wear home-made clothes but I needed to pay someone to cut my hair? Well, no longer.

A couple months ago a friend gave us a home hair cutting kit that includes one of those clipper things like the barbers use which was the impetus I needed to give Leah the go-ahead to cut my hair. It came out fine—I didn't get any shocked comments or even curious looks, so I had to make sure to mention to several people that she had done it so they could be aware that I was moving yet further out of the mainstream of American existence. Today she gave me another trim; at this point I think I can safely say that my 30-year span of reliance on barbershops has come to an end.

What are the advantages of getting haircuts at home? Well, it saves money: we got all the tools for free and, even with just four cuts a year I was shelling out over a hundred dollars at the local barbershop. I can also get more frequent trims now, which means I don't have to get it cut so short each time. It's also a lot easier to fit a haircut into the schedule when we can do it right in the kitchen in 15 minutes, rather than turning it into an hour-long errand. And then there's just the matter of wanting to be counter-cultural: while I loved the barbershop I went to (and I totally recommend it to any non-hippy gentlemen who happen to live in the area) the more things we can manage to do for ourselves as a family or community of friends, without money having to change hands, the happier I feel about the way our life is going. So that's pretty cool.


Things to do with a baby: take him on a quiet stroll

"So," Dan says, walking into the bedroom where Zion and I are playing. "Rascal wants to go for a walk, Harvey wants to ride his tricycle, and you want to go to Whole Foods. Any way we can combine these things?"

I stare at him blankly. It is absolutely freezing outside, I have a million things to buy, and he wants us to walk a mile to Whole Foods.

"Dan," I say, "You've seen my list. I'm shopping for the WHOLE WEEK. I'm shopping for Bible Study on Wednesday, I'm shopping for batch cooking. There's no way we could put all that in the stroller."

"We can take the wagon too" he says, always solving problems.

"Five heads of broccoli," I say reading the first few lines off my list, "Seven apples. Two heads of kale. A gallon of apple juice. TWO WHOLE CHICKENS..."

Dan stares at me blankly. What kind of a hippy am I? Am I just going to drive the car to the stores like all the other moms? Am I really THAT lazy? Do I even CARE about the impact of my actions? Do I want my children to still have an environment when they grow up?

"Okay, fine, let's go before it gets any colder."

Harvey on his tricycle, Dada pulling Zion in the wagon

the great procession

Dan holds Rascal and pulls the wagon, while I monitor Harvey and push the empty double stroller. It's cold, but Harvey is warmed by his pedaling and Zion is warmed by asking every ten seconds if we are REALLY going to Whole Foods.

"Ho Foo???"

After a minute Harvey stops, gets off his bike, and picks up a dandelion. I feel like the best parent in the world! We are walking to get our food! Our child is getting exercise and exploring nature! A minute later he stops again to pick up a broken nip bottle that someone has thrown from the window of their car. I feel like the worst parent in the world. I am exposing my child to exhaust pollution and now biohazards to boot because this is the SIDE of the ROAD more than it is the sidewalk.

We pass over the brook and they throw sticks in the water. Again I am a good parent.

Eventually we make it to Whole Foods.

I pick Zion up and discover he is wet from pee. We go to the bathroom and Harvey whines he doesn't WANT to be in the bathroom he WANTS to get a muffin. We make it through the diaper change and get into the store which is packed bumper-to-bumper with carts. I throw in the five broccoli and Harvey reminds me he wants a muffin. I locate the apples and Zion screams that he wants a cheese sample. I tell them rather harshly that I need to pick out vegetables or nobody gets any treats. "Sorry Mama, sorry" says Harvey because he is a good sweet child or because that is his newest form of manipulation. (If so it works like a charm. He always sounds so contrite, and so they do get their cheese and muffin.)

45 minutes later (yes, it took that long and I was going QUICKLY) we head outside to pack the wagon with our groceries. Zion notices a box of blueberries at the top of one bag and he grabs for it despite wearing his mittens. The box drops and spills a million pricey organic blueberries all over the sidewalk. I say I'm fed up with food shopping and Dan yells at everyone to the.stroller, and Harvey cries because he can't eat a chocolate chip muffin with mittens on.

Boo. Hoo.

Amazingly, the groceries just barely fit in the red wagon plus stroller, and we manage to make it home. I feel like a good hippy parent, though I wish the adventure itself and not just the concept of it had been more life-giving. Dan reminds me that it would have been just as harrowing had I gone by car.

The thing about living out our values with kids is that some seconds are beautiful snap-shots worthy of a "this moment" photo still, while others prove the depths of our sinful nature, and these seconds just follow one after the other. Trying to process it all makes me tired.

Though that doesn't capture how nice it was when he picked up the dandelion.

Maybe I just shouldn't hit the shops on a Saturday.


our (blog) life in review

On our about us page, we describe ourselves as "radical hippy christians homesteading in the suburbs". That's the collection of buzzwords that we brainstormed back two-three years ago when we first decided we needed an about us page, and I think they're reasonably good ones. But at the turn of the year it occurs to me to check in and see how much we're actually representing them in our real life.

radical: I think what we're going for here is a combination of dictionary definitions number two and three. That is to say, extreme in how we live our own life and in the solutions we imagine for the world. So far, I think we're doing... ok. We're poor, thanks to some conscious decisions we made about where we want to focus our energy, but we still manage to be fairly generous to people and causes who need our help—and credit for that goes mostly to Leah, who is totally on top of the tithing. We share our veggies (and our cookies, which proved to be a little more popular); I've got big plans for the farm stand next year. We have only one car, which doesn't sound too amazing—but I guess it is in this day and age. I bike to work almost every day, and weather and children permitting we bike or walk to most destinations in town. We think a lot about how we can give Harvey and Zion a healthy blend of autonomy and security, trying not to fall into the trap of unthinking authoritarianism. We don't buy much.

But we could be doing much better. Stress keeps us from doing too many of the things we want to do—for example, now that it's cold we've been driving a lot more, just because it's so much easier than convincing the boys that they want to get bundled up in the stroller. The hard parts of parenting also keep us from reaching out more to people in our community: we have lots of great friends who we're lucky enough to spend tons of time with, but speaking for myself I feel like I need to do a better job reaching out to people and explaining our values. Lately I think I've either been ignoring the world, or mad at it.

hippy: I think we've got this one nailed. Just the fact that we stopped using any commercial bathing products gives us tons of hippy points—and, of course, that distinctive hippy aroma (what?! I'm talking about the rosemary and tea-tree oil in Leah's home-made deodorant!). No shampoo, no toothpaste, no kitchen or bath cleansers... generally we keep our distance from factory-produced chemicals with long names. We still do use commercial dish soap (albeit from Seventh Generation, a fake hippy company) and laundry detergent (Tide, gasp!), and wash the kids with good old Johnson and Johnson, so there's some progress to be made, but I think we're doing alright. Our food, on the other hand, is only mildly hippyish, and we haven't done very well at getting to thrift stores to clothe ourselves in the appropriate fashion. But I think the soap thing—plus, of course, Leah's dreads—have us in very good shape hippy-wise.

christian: Another good one, at least if we get credit for going to church every Sunday of the year, except when we're camping. Plus we both teach kids' church, and Leah prays for people, and we have two nights a week devoted to Christian fellowship, and... that's probably enough. I would like to pray more at home, especially with the kids, but Zion is a little too young and Harvey currently views prayer for the most part as a tool of the cruel bed-time routine, so there's still progress to be made on that front; but I'm not in any way concerned.

homesteading: I think it was some ladies looking for homesteading blog content that brought the wrath of the "toxic parenting" group down on our heads, and in addition to critiquing our child-rearing they also complained about the lack of information on the subject here. Which is probably fair. In our defense, almost everyone who talks about "homesteading" is not actually doing it in any meaningful sense—including us. But we're not actually looking for self-sufficiency; instead, we mean the term as a shorthand for making as many things as possible ourselves. To that end we've got soap; bread; beer; hats, mittens, and sweaters; clothes for the boys; and, you know, the whole home-made Christmas thing generally. Add in the chickens and the garden and I think we're doing fine. And just wait until we get bees!

And of course, we are totally, undeniably, living in the suburbs. As much as we sometimes wish it weren't so.

So all in all, not to bad. We're generally on target but with ample room for improvement, which strikes me as a pretty good place to be at the start of a new year.


Buy Nothing Day and Marie Antoinette

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as Black Friday around here, in grim memorial for the hundreds of shoppers who are crushed to death yearly in their frenzied rush to snatch up holiday bargains. Increasingly, in the upper-middle-class hippy-esque circles in which we travel (I mean, literally travel: like, say, Lexington) it's gained another appellation: Buy Nothing Day. The idea for Buy Nothing Day has apparently been around since the mid-90s, but it's taking off big this year, whether in response to the ever earlier onset of Black Friday sales (now on Thursday!!) or thanks to savvy Facebook marketing by the folks at AdBusters. Us, we're not observing Buy Nothing Day specifically: being poor means that every day is a buy nothing day!

Seriously, at this point the idea of restraining yourself from purchasing anything for one day being considered a revolutionary act seems completely ridiculous to me. I do understand that part of the point of the program is to offer an alternative to Black Friday consumerism, in hopes of giving people an opposing narrative to the one that says they have to rush out Friday morning in order to save money on things that they'd have to buy anyways. To that extent, Buy Nothing Day as a kick-off to Buy Nothing Christmas (or Occupy Christmas, or whatever they're calling it this year) makes a little bit of sense. But that's not all they've got going on. Check out this marketing copy:

This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours … see what happens … you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany!

Buy Nothing Day is legendary for instigating this type of personal transformation … as you suddenly remember what real living is all about … you sense an upsurge of radical empowerment and feel a strange magic creeping back into your life. [ellipses very much in original]

And people are taking this seriously: on various corners of the internet I've read of people planning to go hiking, work on craft projects, play music with friends. All that and more will be made possible by not shopping!

I see a connection with the "Bedford Unplugged" program we've had here in town for the past several years, which is being observed this month:

"Bedford Unplugged" is an annual community initiative begun October 2004 to encourage families to pull the plug on electronic distractions and disconnect from overly busy schedules, and to connect with each other through activities with family and friends. It is all too easy to forget having meals with others, making conversation, or bringing people together for fun, games, and relaxation. "Bedford Unplugged" is your reminder to take a break from the hectic times for a day or more.

See how hard it is to be rich in the suburbs?! You have to be shopping all the time, and when you're not you're at soccer or playing on the iPad! Not us, though. Our times are actually far from hectic, probably because we're dramatically under-employed and can't afford to send our kids to any programs or shop at the mall even when there's a big sale (40% of whatever is still greater than 0, which is my budget for non-essential items at this point). But hey, that means we have time for family dinners and crafts and walks and music and all that other good stuff our neighbors are apparently having trouble with. And I'm totally serious about that: I love the trade-offs we've made in our life, and think that we're mostly coming out with the better end of the deal. Friday when I'm relaxing with family and friends I won't for a second wish I had the disposable income that would let me hit up the Best Buy.

What does all that have to do with Marie Antoinette? Well, remember how she liked to play shepherdess? When the affairs of the court grew too pressing to bear, she would retire to the country to live the simple life of a village maiden with no responsibilities but her flock of sheep. I get a little hint of that with our Buy Nothing, Unplugged month here: let's all pretend to be poor because poor people have it so great! And the thing is, I agree: when you have less money, you're free—or rather, forced—to think of other things to do with yourself, and most of the time those things end up being better. But I don't think it does any good to just make a day of it. I don't want to suggest that suburban liberals should be the first candidates for the guillotine when the revolution comes, but Marie Antoinette's example might just show that playing poor doesn't work as well as actually reconsidering your priorities and making some real changes in your life.

That's a little harder to sell in an add campaign, though. Too busy? Too stressed? How about quitting your job and spending more time with your family? Food stamps, heating assistance, and Mass Health will make up a surprising amount of your missing income! Sounds good to us; admittedly, it is a little harder to try for just one day.


more on healthy snacks and too much about my armpits

I thought I'd write a follow-up to answer some of the questions raised by my hippy odds-and-ends post from yesterday.

Alexis asked how my children reacted to the switch away of Cheerios. To tell you the truth, they didn't really notice. Our food options vary a lot from week to week, so there are no food items that we ALWAYS have in the house. Consequently my kids are used to accepting an alternative if there happens to be no milk or bananas for a day or two. It also helps that we make an effort to eat locally, so they're used to seeing fruits go in and out of season. Of course there are exceptions to this - I buy bananas even though they're never in season here and apples year round. And we do try our hardest to keep apple juice in the house because its absence is likely to spark a tantrum. But no, they didn't ask for more Cheerios after the last box was gone.

Anyway, my kids tend to like apples and carrots, so they're very happy eating them in the stroller. If anyone wants to know how to get their kids to like fresh fruits and vegetables the answer is, I don't know. Mine just do. They have other problems, of course. They can't play inside without CONSTANT ADULT INTERVENTION OR ENTERTAINMENT, but they're good eaters.

Also, Dan says I left out writing about our homemade deodorant. How could I forget! I started making my own deodorant sticks from a recipe in this book and I just love the result. The deodorant has a pleasant odor without being overpowering, which puts it over Toms of Maine which I found to have an unpleasant chemical smell. Also, Toms of Maine seems to "turn" before the stick is used up, whereas the homemade deodorant stays good to the end, perhaps because it's softer so it goes faster. Other pros: it costs almost nothing to make, just a little olive oil, beeswax, and essential oils. Cons: it's a natural deodorant and therefore is not as effective as chemical deodorants you buy in the store. If I get really hot and sweaty then I smell like BO. If I check my armpits (and come on, who doesn't) they start smelling like BO as the deodorant wears off sometime late in the afternoon.

Sometimes I read hippy tutorials on the internet and they're like: This deodorant is so natural! Better than what you buy in the store for every reason possible! And I'm thinking: Hey, I've met you in person... you SMELL BAD. I don't want to be like that. I don't want you to get all these false hopes about homemade deodorant if a body's natural odor is really offensive to you. There's a reason there are chemicals in store-bought deodorants and the reason is that it makes them more deodorizing. I don't think that makes it worth putting on your body, but I don't want you to meet me in person and think that I smell bad and then on top of that THINK that I'M AN IDIOT WHO DOESN'T KNOW WHAT BO SMELLS LIKE.

I think becoming a hippy is a journey down a road, and maybe that road is a little bit sloped and sometimes slippery. What I mean to say is, you start to eat whole foods, you start to cut down on waste or chemical exposure, you start to get more used to how things look and feel "naturally" and suddenly the smell of your own BO is not quite as offensive to you. Even though you started this whole process thinking, "I'm okay with being a little bit hippy, but I don't want to be one of those SMELLY hippies" suddenly you are.

Because the scary truth is that worrying about what you smell like is stupid. Society makes you do it. And if you say, "Screw what society things about [fill in the blank: homebirth, homeschooling, wearing makeup, whatever]" then you may just start questioning what society things about your natural odor. And then before you know it you're only washing your hair once a week and you DON'T CARE and you even LIKE THE WAY YOU SMELL and friends of your parents are stopping you on the street saying, "Seriously Leah? Seriously?" But I digress. You're probably not named Leah.

This book has lots of ideas if you want to stop shopping at CVS altogether.


Random Hippiness

Here is a list of some hippy changes I've made over the past few months. None of them merit a solo blog post, but taken together maybe it'll look like I'm really moving and shaking around here.

I stopped using toothpaste. I think the baking soda in toothpaste was making my teeth more sensitive, so I switched to using just a toothbrush with a drop of peppermint essential oil. First I tried just a toothbrush with water, but the taste of the toothbrush by itself revealed a little too much just how disgusting the practice of daily tooth brushing is. Seriously, I use a glass for water and I put it in the dishwasher. I use the same object to scrape the crap off the inside of my mouth and I leave it sitting in a steamy bathroom for months? It just goes to show that our concepts of cleanliness are RELATIVE at best (oppressive and isolating at worst.) Anyway, the key to leaving dentifrice behind is starting with a new toothbrush that hasn't seen toothpaste before, and once a day dropping on a bit of peppermint. Peppermint essential oil is slightly antiseptic, or so I tell myself. Also, I floss frequently.

Okay, moving on.

We gave up Cheerios. There's nothing inherently unhealthy about cheerios, it's just that they are so easy to put into a cup as a snack that the kids were requesting cheerios every time we went in the stroller or the car, making them less hungry for "real" lunch. Also, their constant yelling for snacks every time we leave the house, even if they JUST ATE BREAKFAST makes me crazy. So we stopped getting cheerios, and now if I want to go somewhere with snacks I have to cut up apples and carrots or assemble other real foods. Probably this benefits their overall health, not only my smugness. Now as soon as we get in the car they yell for apples. It's not any less crazy-making but I maybe I feel better about it.

And finally,

I took my fist barefoot run yesterday. I realized the other day that my sneakers are so worn down in the back that they're hurting my feet just to wear them, but I don't have the cash to shell out for a new pair of running shoes. So I decided to try what the crazy men do and go without shoes. I did a 2-mile loop around the block and found the classic barefoot running advice pretty easy to apply... strike with the ball of the foot, keep knees bent — those are things you automatically do in order not to hurt yourself. I liked noticing how springy my instep is without the help of shoes, and it reminded me of my years of modern dance in which a fair amount of running and leaping occurred barefoot. Downside: my skin felt a little stingy by the end, and I didn't get that free flying feeling that I love about running. I don't know if running will be as exciting to me in the future if barefoot is the only option, but it's nice to feel like it's a poverty-friendly option for exercise. You know, other than working in the fields.

Oh, and Dan wore an African shirt to church today. We are becoming "those" people...


seasonal changes

With the coming of fall we've seen a few little changes around here. Most noticeably, we've started using electric lighting again, after a period without. It wasn't really like breaking a fast—there wasn't a moment where we said "it's just too dark!" and gave up—we just started using lights when we needed to, and we need to a lot more now that it gets dark at 7:30. Sometimes I read to Harvey by head-lamp, sometimes it's the overhead light. It feels good to be flexible: going lightless was great for the summer, but would be a burden now.

I also bought eggs for the first time in months last week. The growing dark also affects the chickens, and their egg production has dropped from 3-4 a day to 2-3. We're still eating as many for breakfast and the cold weather (and the demands of the farm stand!) has encouraged me to bake more, so a supplemental dozen was necessary. Our flock's output will dwindle still further as winter takes hold, so we're grateful for the farm down the road with electric lighting in their henhouses. We hope to get more chickens in the spring, so maybe next winter we'll be able to scrape by without buying any eggs at all; then again, we might still need to supplement, especially as we get in to a better schedule of giving eggs away.

I'm thankful that we've still got a while before frost—you hear that, weather?—unlike folks a little farther north, because there are still a whole lot of peppers (and a few eggplants) that need to ripen up. But Harvey and I put in a bunch of cold-tolerant plants that will either give us a bit of tasty greens in the few months before real winter or—if we get a winter like last year's—all the way through until we can plant again in the spring.

We started putting the fans down in the basement. Most of the windows stay closed all day. Next thing you know it'll be storm windows. There are apples at the farmers market (though none in our trees yet—next year?). It's fall.


smugness is all we have

As we were cycling home through a light rain, on our way back from a 10-mile trip to the Farmers Market and the library up in Lexington, a thought occurred to me: if only there were some way to monetize our hippy tendencies. A smugness trading scheme, if you will. See, plenty of people want to live sustainable, hippy lifestyles; they're just prevented from achieving that goal by non-hippy hang-ups like scheduled activities for their kids, or jobs, or, you know, having any money. Not us!

So here's the plan. If you're a liberal environmentalist type but still find yourself driving your SUV everywhere, even to the store a mile and half away with no one else in the vehicle with you, throw us five bucks; we'll cycle a comparable distance with our family of four. For ten we'll do it in the rain! Do you wish you could do the locavore thing but only have time to shop at the Stop-and-Shop? For twenty dollars a week you can rest assured in the knowledge that we're eating exclusively local produce for you all summer long (the winter program would be a bit more expensive, unfortunately).

I figure that it's kind of like carbon trading. Just like with carbon-trade schemes companies can fill the air with greenhouse gasses just as fast as they always have, but by after a tiny fraction of their operating expenses to plant some trees in South America they get to trumpet their green credentials on their packaging. And I don't mean to sound too sarcastic: the tree planting is probably helping something, and the companies that pay for it are at least thinking of helping out. And you can be like them! It costs less than you think to join our smugness trading scheme and know that we're out there trying to live a different, more sustainable life—for you!


prophetic acts (or, what a suburban mama can do when she can't do much)

I read this book recently by Beni Johnson called The Happy Intercessor. For those of you unfamiliar to the term, and intercessor is someone who prays for other people. Quietly, usually. Usually on her own time, without those people knowing about it. It's not real flashy and kind of, dare I say, obvious.

I often think of myself as an intercessor because, um, I'm not anything else? I'm kind of constrained by these kiddos and right now I don't have any other power for God other than sitting quietly a few times a week and praying for other people. Sometimes those prayers have real exciting results. Sometimes they don't. At any rate, it's better than TV.

But that's not what I'm thinking about today. In this book Beni writes about prophetic acts as mater or course for the intercessor. Things like pouring oil on things, sticking swords in things, whatever. Weird shit that sounds like a waste of time. Somehow, writes Beni (who doesn't herself use the term "weird shit") these acts shift something in the spiritual realm so that months after she went somewhere and threw a sword in the ground there is profound reconciliation in the politics of the city.

She's not making this up out of whole cloth. The prophets did this kind of thing all the time. With God leading, they walked around naked or married prostitutes or ate poop cakes to demonstrate to Israel something God was trying to say. (Ugh, should I site sources here? I'm so lazy and my bible is all the way over there. Let's just say if you're curious leave a comment and I'll find the real verses.)

I have been thinking about prophetic acts in regards to my big dreams. Living in a way that's sustainable for the environment. Leaning lightly on money. Teaching my children to have power in God. You know, stuff that's pretty much impossible.

I had just finished Beni's book when I was walking the dog and kids on the bike path connector in Bedford. And, like, there's trash everywhere. Seriously, I don't understand why littering is still a problem. Are people like, "Oh, I just can't make it to that trash-can 20 yards away. I know, I'll just throw plastic bag filled with food wrappers on the ground."? WTF? Anyway, it's impossible for me to pick up all the trash on that path; it'd take like two hours and a big trash bag. But I had a little bag for the dog's poop, so I said to myself, "I'm just going to pick up these few pieces of trash around me right here. It won't make a dent in the problem, but I'm going to do it as a prophetic act to say MY WORLD IS NOT MADE OF TRASH!"

And you know what? When I picked up those ten wrappers I felt like something WAS moved in the spiritual realm. Someone cares. Someone says this path, this town, this world isn't trash.

Now. There are bigger problems that I think about vis a vis the environment. Bigger than litter. And I can think of big solutions for my family and for the world. But as much as I might like to right now, I can't move to an island. I live here in the suburbs and since I can't do big moves I feel like now is the time to act small-ly and prophetically. And watch the rest of the world follow. (Or, you know, be burned in hellfire... I don't want to paint an unfairly rosy or picture... that wouldn't be very biblical.)

I wrote to Jo in an email recently that I want to be somehow "prophetically anti-capitalist." She immediately started using the phrase to make fun of me, which is pretty fair. Still, Dan just started an awesome farm stand that's the most prophetically anti-capitalist thing I've ever seen, so I'm hoping he'll share tat with you soon. Also, Jo stole this whole idea from me for her blog post today, which you're welcome to read. Especially if you're sick of my incredibly vague references to the bible.


the car, the suburbs, the feminine mystique

We've done a lot of driving this summer. Sometimes I feel like my radical parenting impulses are torn in two directions. On one hand I want to be homesteading, showing the kids how to sew and make jam, raise animals, be content playing in the woods and, I don't know, some idealized version of childhood that doesn't actually work with my children. Because the home is where they hit each other with blocks, so my other impulse is to present my children with exciting new adventures. Sans blocks. To that end we find ourselves hopping in the car every day to scoot off to God knows where, some museum or farm or beautiful river where I pretend like I didn't know they were going to swim.

the boys swimming in the concord river

golly gee, passers by, if I'd have only know I would have brought their swimsuits

I love adventures. I love the way I can't be distracted by chores and I'm forced to pay attention to my children. Sometimes I play with them in the river or at the museum and it's just fantastic. THIS is parenting! i announce to myself. Sometimes I merely facilitate the transportation of kids, diapers, clothing changes, and one thousand pounds of snacks to and from various exciting locations. On this trip to the river I carried a bag of beach toys, a bag of snacks, the bag with the diapers and towels, the stroller and the dog, and I SHOULD have brought the Ergo with me because Harvey broke down at the end and refused to use his legs to make any forward progress towards the car. And there's everyone, all the thousand tourists and park rangers at the Concord bridge, looking concerned in my direction and asking, "Is he hot? There's a water fountain over there!" As if I wasn't keenly aware that I'm carrying not one but THREE water bottles — indeed that's the reason I can't PICK UP MY SCREAMING CHILD all the stupid bags in my hand. And I just felt like, well, my mother used to say she felt like a "beast of burden" and I wouldn't go that far but I did feel like an ass.

harvey swimming in the concord river

Harvey swimming happily before mama ruined his day

The problem at the river was that the dog was barking because HE wanted to go home. Or sometimes it's the baby crying because HE wants to go to sleep. Or sometimes it's me who's bored because I don't have a smart phone. Because paying attention to my children is lovely but oh my word I do it for many many minutes a day.

The problem is, Harvey has a longer attention span for staying somewhere than anybody else in the family. And Harvey gets to make A LOT of decisions about what we do, but duration isn't one of them. So there are tantrums. Which, I don't know, when my kid is having a tantrum I enter this horrible place of mental redundancy where I think: haven't we done this before? Haven't a million parents done this before? And I have to sit through this AGAIN? Like, why isn't the tantrum problem solved for all humanity?

Which sounds remarkably calloused to the emotional needs of my children. Sometimes I think I'm a working mother in an attachment parent's body.

Once I had my kids at the mall food court (crappy hippy that I am) and there was a kid at the table next to us throwing a tantrum about his meal and his caretaker said, "This is the food we have. You can eat it or not but you need to sit in your seat until everyone else is finished." Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, I would say the same thing, but in my head came the phrase, "A thousand little prisoners and a thousand little jailers."

But I got off track. I had wanted to write a post about driving.

We have done a lot of driving this summer, and the thing I notice in between beautiful playgrounds and swimming holes (that we feel very blessed to visit, don't get me wrong) is miles and miles of sprawling suburbs. Another house with another lawn over and over and over again. All made out of ticky-tacky, all watered with underground sprinkler systems. And I've just felt like, Oh God. I've got to get out of here.

I'm reaching a point with the suburbs and the cars and it's fight or flight.

My friend Jo said something so poignant to me the other day. "I feel like my kids are going to ask me, 'Why did you keep driving when you knew it was unsustainable?' And I don't have an answer to that question." It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, because it's true. Why did you keep ruining the environment, mom and dad? Because we lived in the suburbs. Because you and your brother kept hitting each other when I tried to do stuff in the house. Because you loved new playgrounds and ponds and museums.

Our generation's equivalent of "Why didn't you stand up to the Nazis?"

harvey standing up at the river

Harvey in a disposable diaper because he outgrew the cloth ones and potty training dash the environment is less important than getting them to stop hitting each other

This isn't really a coherent argument about anything other than my general malaise with living in the suburbs. Which really might just be general malaise about parenting. Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique: I ask women about their lives and they give me a list of tasks. Get up, load the laundry, feed the baby, on and on. There is no substance to these women's lives other than their chores. (I'm paraphrasing here because I can't find the actual quote. I don't own the book and google isn't smart enough to deliver it to me based on my vague searches.) Obviously Friedan wasn't a Marxist. Of course our labor defines us. To put it in more obvious terms, our life is pretty much made up of what we do all day. But that's an argument for another day. What I'm trying to say is, I'm starting to feel like Friedan's housewives, with a problem that has no name, and I'm trying to name it "driving" or "capitalism" or "living in the suburbs," when Friedan might have been wrong it might just be that life with young children is sometimes tedious.

Maybe it's just tantrums. Dear Lord, I see where Harvey gets it from.


okay, everybody just calm down

I think some people are maybe taking my little experiment the wrong way.

A few weeks ago I decided I was fed up with being fed up with the kids. That's not to say I spend every moment yelling and fighting. If that were the case I would need to get a nanny and commit myself to some sort of institution. No, most of our days today are lovely, filled with enjoyment and enriching activities, and I would much rather parent them than have anyone else do it.

The thing I was finding was that my frustration level tends to build during the day, on account of 1) feeling like I just CAN'T get done the things I need to get done and 2) feeling sick or in pain. After I've felt really sick for a while or really thwarted sometimes I do break out and yell. Not all the time. Not very violently. But the guilt about it does weigh on me.

In order to work on number 1 (feeling thwarted) I tried to pear down the number of things I feel I need to accomplish in a day. This meant putting a stop to the knitting and sewing and basket weaving projects, because while I absolutely love to create things, starting a project means there's something in process on the kitchen table, making me feel thwarted till it's finished and also thwarted in my need to clear the kitchen table for lunch. Also, I've been sleeping so poorly that it's just stupid to try to stay up late to accomplish something. There is only one thing I can do about number two, feeling sick, and that's sleep. If it's gotta be in two-hour bursts then the first one needs to start at 8pm.

My reaction to this experiment has been largely positive. I don't feel that the kids are thwarting me as much, and I feel like the house cleaning is a little bit more attainable, because I'm using my free time to clean in little bursts rather than weave a few rows of a basket. Also when I get my 30-minute union break (that's what I call it when Dan comes home and gives me a break from the kids) I mostly fold laundry instead of ignoring the mess to run straight to the sewing machine. It's not as glorious, but it means we mostly have folded laundry in the drawers. Look, cleaning is always a bottomless pit and even now there are things all over the floor and two baskets of unfolded laundry. I'm not saying my house is CLEAN. I'm saying I now realize that an hour a day of dedicated cleaning time is the minimum this house needs to function, and if I'm not doing that I'm either being unrealistic or selfish.

This is not to say that I have thrown my adult personality out the window to become Cinderella with stretch marks. We do participate in two adult church meetings a week (three if you count church!) and those are non-negotiable. I am right now blogging, which is a semi-adult activity, because the kids are both napping (thank you over-stimulating Discovery museum!) There are plenty of opportunities I have for self-actualization without messing up my house pretending to be Martha Stewart.

I think there's a tendency in our culture to say if parenting isn't going great then you should just parent less. Give the kids to a sitter and just go out. Or let them watch Dora. Or put them in daycare and go back to work. I don't want to get into a judgey thing, it's just... that's not my thing. I don't know if it comes across in the blog, maybe it doesn't, but I feel like I'm trying to DO something here. I'm trying to raise children in an authentic way, some way that's integrated with my values no less than 100%. I'm trying to raise makers, naturalists, revivalists. I'm not gonna... fuggin ... back off on the main goal of my life just because I'm dealing with a little exhaustion.

As Bill Johnson said about his kids, "I have a lot of dreams, but THEY'RE my dream."

Anyway, I'm aware I've been a wee bit whiney on the blog lately, and I apologize. It's not the most gracious season for me. I hope someone else will find the rawness interesting without suggesting I commit myself.


another lifestyle experiment

Mama and Harvey reading by the light of the headlamp

better than cursing the darkness

My family indulges me wonderfully. The other day, I announced with no preamble that I thought we should stop using electric lights in the evening. "OK," they said—or Leah said, at least. The other two failed to grasp the import of the change in policy.

Why on earth would I think such a thing? I'm not quite sure. I know that Cornell University sleep researcher James Maas suggests that the light bulb was among the more destructive inventions of the 20th century for what it's done to people's sleep, and it's certainly nice to be more in tune with the natural cycle of the day. It's especially important for Harvey, now that he doesn't have a set bedtime (of which more anon).

Of course, it's kind of cheating to be typing by the light of the computer—the house has been dark for a good half hour now. We're using flashlights too, as necessary (see above photo). But computers and flashlights are only a marginally acceptable solutions when compared to the thoughtless convenience of overhead lighting, so even when we do stay up past dark—which we've been doing—we feel that we should be going to bed.

Or I do, at least. Maybe Leah just feels annoyed at not being able to see anything really well. But as I said, she indulges me wonderfully and hasn't mentioned it. How lucky I am. And soon I'll be well-rested too!


soapy liberation

Some time ago I stopped using shampoo, and it's been ages since I used a separate face-wash, but not until today did I finally manage to cut the last cord tying me to the soapy clutching hands of big shower. Don't worry, I haven't stopped bathing entirely: I just replaced my bar of hippy soap from Whole Foods with Leah's even-hippier home-made soap. The orange flavor. It feels so liberating.

Unfortunately, I'm still stuck with commercial shaving cream and deodorant. But that may be only because I'm insufficiently creative and inventive. A quick google search tells me that there are a whole lot of recipes out there for homemade deodorant (or maybe just one recipe copied many places; I only read the first link). As for shaving cream, there are similarly many recipes, but interestingly I find that most of them are written by and for women and refer only to leg shaving. The one article I found aimed at men pretty much just suggested using soap. Or shampoo, conditioner, detergent, peanut butter... you know, whatever is handy. Soap sounds promising.

I have long listened to Leah and the other hippy women of our acquaintance discussing these sorts of topics, so I'm sure I could seek out suggestions from them. Women have an advantage in this anti-corporate-cleaning project, because as I understand it they actually think about personal grooming at times other than when they're actually engaged in it. Me, I can't even remember that I need to replace the bar of soap in the shower until I pick it up, at which point it's too late (I had a couple of essentially soap-free showers before I finally managed to bring up the home-made bar from the basement). Any forward planning on the subject feels a little weird to me, honestly. Does writing this blog post make me a metrosexual?


it's a wrap

I am officially a member of the tribe now.

Zion in the Moby

fresh as a daisy at 5:30am

Unlike Harvey who was a bear to put to sleep but slept solidly after he went down, Zion is a fitful sleeper and during the day with all the toddler noise in the house it seems that he can only sleep well while being held by his mama. Not an easy thing given the aforementioned toddler. I wore the sling a lot, which Zion loves, but I was getting cramps in one shoulder from the lopsided weight bearing. So I called my mom and asked her to pick me up a Moby wrap. This brings the number of branded baby carriers in our house to 4: bjorn, ergo, sling, and moby. For people who say that babies don't need a lot of stuff, that's a little embarassing. The truth is, they DON'T need a lot of stuff, but man oh man do you just keep buying stuff until you find the RIGHT stuff.

So anyway, the moby. It works really well for carrying a fussy baby, if you don't mind looking like a ginormous hippy.

The concept of attachment parenting has hurt me more than helped me in my parenting journey. (did I just type parenting journey? I guess I am a hippy.) When Harvey was a baby I felt like a terrible mother whenever I put him down. So I waited until Dan could hold him to do absolutely anything... fold laundry, go to the bathroom, eat. As a consequence I felt totally trapped, panicked, and hungry all the time. I didn't really get over the feeling until Harvey got older and more independent naturally. With Zion I've tried to re-wire my brain to think logically; holding him is good, but so are clean dishes, so holding him and then putting him down to wash dishes is good too.

I am a little wary of touting the promises of babywearing. Every how-to-tie-a-wrap video ends with the reassurance like: "Now you're baby is tied to you and you're ready to go about your day doing work around the house or whatever you need to do!" Awesome... if your house work only involves picking up with one hand things objects that are already at eye-level. Don't try to get anything off a top shelf, bend down to pick something up, or do a task that requires bringing two hands together, like washing dishes. Two hands free is rather a mis-nomer if they can only come together a foot in front of your body.

Still, I've gotten rather good at the grand plie toy pick-up (the baby's legs need to swing over your midline, that's why you can't bend down like regular or you'll smush them) and it must be toning my butt in the process! And most importantly, Zion isn't crying because he desperately needs to nap and can't.

Harvey has gotten a little jealous from time to time about the baby wearing, and he often asks to go up in "Harvey's born" which he also calls "brown thingy"... I have indeed carried him in the ergo carrier from time to time this month (Harvey's confusing the brand names when he calls it his bjorn, but I'll let that slide) but mostly I just say no. It's a whine that is not easily sated. The only time Harvey got as much time as he wanted in the carrier and voluntarily asked to get down was when I walked the dog pushing Zion in the stroller and holding Harvey in the carrier. That was 40 minutes and 2 miles, and I prefer not to repeat the feat. At home, 10 minutes in the carrier does not fulfill any desire for Harvey, and only makes him whine for it more. So no uppy for you, mister. Which is all to say that these days I make my decisions on how to love my children based on minimizing the sound of whining and maximizing my hands-free time washing dishes. At least it's a method I can stick with!


better to go to bed than curse the darkness

Today is the third evening in a row where we've managed to go without any electronic illumination beyond the glow of our computer screens. It's not on purpose—just that sunset has caught up with the time we want to start winding down—but I like it a lot. Way back when I was in college I remember hearing a famous Cornell professor, an expert on sleep, declare that over the years the incandescent lightbulb has had a worse effect on our health than any other invention. I don't know about that, but it's certainly one more thing we use to let ourselves feel like we're the masters of our own destiny; not always a good thing, if you ask me.

It's a very personal objection, my occasional dislike of electric lights. I'd never suggest that doing without them would improve anyone's life. But myself, I very much enjoy the feeling of being in tune with the natural world that going to bed at dark brings—especially in the summer when it doesn't start getting dark until after 8:00. There are a few different positives for me. One is that I appreciate how much light there is outside even when the house gets dark. Late evening is a pretty awesome time to be outside (except for the mosquitoes), but we rarely realize it if we turn our lights on as soon as it gets too dark to read inside the house.

More usefully, not using the lights also helps get me to bed earlier, since I have an external signal that it's time to stop doing stuff (I sometimes forget otherwise, especially when Leah's already in bed). Of course, as Leah points out to me, our house is plenty light even when we don't turn on the lights: the sleeping computers, humidifiers, and wipes warmers all emit a comforting glow, and there are nightlights in strategic places as well. And of course we can make more light: I'm staring at a glowing screen now and Leah is working by the light of her sewing machine. Obviously, this is not the level of purity that would fly on an Orthodox Sabbath.

Still, it's handy. Even with all the light the computer is putting out I can tell that it's pretty dark in this room. That sends my brain a signal that it's time to be asleep, even if I have to do just a little extra last work to make sure that folks have something to read tomorrow. Plus the eye-strain makes me feel extra-special tired!

And when we go to bed with the sun, we can rise with the sun too. We did this morning, and I had time before work to bake a batch of biscuits for Leah to bring to friends without feeling rushed at all. And the early morning is just as nice a time to be out and about as the late evening—I can't believe how many people are missing out! Of course, with Harvey there's always the risk that we're going to have to rise with the sun anyways, so all the better if we can make sure to get a lot of sleep before that point.

None of this is to suggest that we're going to keep up this pattern. Things arise—things like Bible Study and evenings out and work that absolutely needs to get done. But while it lasts, I'm really enjoying this chance to live according to a different schedule, one that's not dictated by all the painful and annoying exigencies of modern life. I'm also resisting the temptation to ante-date this blog post to make it look like I finished it earlier than half an hour after full dark, and I'm going to bed right now!


a hippie by any other name...

I read several hippy mama blogs, so this shouldn't be surprising to me, but somehow it still strikes right in my cognitive dissonance center when another hippy mother makes a radically different decision from me. I just assume that if someone is crafty and eats locally that she would also, for example, I don't know, do a home-birth or home-school her kids or something like that. Then when I read an article like "Ten ways to pack an organic lunchbox" I'm all confused. Just today I was reading a blog today where the mother started by writing, "When my doctor looked at the ultrasound and told me that I was having a girl..." and I was all, "Wait what? Ultrasound? Who are you and why am I reading?"

There are many different kind of hippies, it seems, each of whom define hippiness in their own way. For example, you'll probably NOT be surprised that I, as a self proclaimed hippy:

- buy local produce
- don't wear makeup
- birth my babies at home
- hate driving
- sew and mend clothing
- support homeschooling
- nurse my toddler
- don't have a tv

You may, however, be surprised to hear that I:

- eat meat
- fully vaccinate my child
- hate yoga
- never used a baby sling
- am suspicious of alternative medicine

It's kind of fun to think of the ways one does and doesn't fit a counter-cultural sub-mold. I'm anti-circumcision but pro-birth-control. I'm environmentalist but I cherish the invention of durable plastic (like tupperware). I hate consumer culture but I LOVE IKEA. Well, I don't know if that last one is really a divisive issue. Who in the world doesn't love IKEA?

I'd hope that the salient feature of hippiedom is a spirit of free-thinking, which would imply that we're likely to reach different conclusions about many issues. It makes me wonder if there is any indivisible quality, without which hippiness is impossible. I dunno, I've never met a hippie who drove an SUV. But I could be wrong...


baked goods

Today our household made bagels, chocolate-chip cookies, two kinds of scones (cranberry-oatmeal and lemon-ginger) and, um, one batch of rustic scones that were the result when I forgot to cut in the butter before adding the wet ingredients. Not really scones, but not entirely inedible either. Certainly healthier than they would have been otherwise! In the midst of this orgy of baking Leah spoke with her dad and told him she was baking bagels; he asked her why she didn't just get a dozen from the bagel store. Why indeed?

Possible reasons:

  • We like baking
  • Harvey likes baking
  • It's cheaper
  • Home-made tastes better
  • We're crazy people

I'm really not sure. But I know I'm looking forward to having one of those bagels for breakfast tomorrow!


hatin on TV

After ripping another blogger a new one yesterday, I thought I'd take a moment to pick on my own hypocrisies today. The topic is television.

We canceled our TV service a little over a year ago because Dan and I both agreed that we didn't want to be a household focused on television. Not to say that every household that owns a TV also orbits its family life around it, but some do. Mine did growing up. So it's a danger we wanted to avoid, and we went cold turkey and canceled our subscription.

Theoretically, all would be lovely and unplugged in our house, except for a little thing called THE INTERNET.

I don't know if you know this? But on the internet you can WATCH TELEVISION. So in our less innovative more exhausted moments of parenting Harvey was introduced to Phineus & Ferb and also Shaun the Sheep. And that's all it took - one tiny taste of the drug in his system - to make him whine for television CONSTANTLY. When he wakes up in the morning, when he wakes up form his nap, whenever he sees a laptop. Constantly.

So now he watches an average of one hour of TV a day. I hate this. Every time I turn on YouTube for him it makes me feel sick inside. I am failing as a parent. If only I could think of something else to play/cook/destroy with him, I wouldn't have to rot his brain away. If only I could make the laundry/dishwasher/rest-time more interesting, he'd gladly stick by me for that ten minutes instead of throwing his body on the floor in front of a live screen.

There are particular challenges to raising an Archibald child that we did not foresee in our idealistic planning. Harvey does very poorly with playing on his own. Some days he'll entertain himself for a whole ten minutes, some days zero. The rest of the time I have to be playing with him, one-on-one, constantly. Which, don't get me wrong, is lovely, but it makes even the bare minimum of household upkeep awfully difficult. Not to mention cooking. Or moving something from one room to another. And if I don't want him to watch a show, I'd better also give up on email forever (which, since I can't talk on the phone at all when Harvey's awake, also means I'd have to give up on all adult contact for about the next ten years.)

Also, I'm pregnant, so sometimes after I walk the dog for a mile while simultaneously carrying a 30 pound toddler on my back and a 30 pound belly on my front IN THE MIDDLE OF A SNOWSTORM I need to fucking sit down. (Yeah, I know that sounds dramatic - I get very worked up about the needs of the dog these snowstormy days.) Anyway, that means computer time for Harvey post-walk while mama lies down and tries to regain the will to move. That usually takes about a half hour, which when added to the few minutes in the morning when I have to take out the trash or clean up from breakfast plus the few minutes in the evening when I simply can't answer one more friggin request that starts with "mama get - " adds up to about an hour of TV.

So there's a heaping pile of justification for you. That's how a hippy non-TV family ends up with a one-and-a-half year old getting a full hour of TV a day. Hypocrisy and piles of justification.

One hour. God. I really do feel like a monster.

Of course, I could be guilty of the same misplaced grief for which I admonished Meghan and her husband yesterday. Like stuff, TV is not evil incarnate. It's got its good points and its bad. It makes you feel okay about doing nothing, and then later when it's not on it makes you feel worse about doing nothing. Kind of like pot, which even thought I don't partake, I can't raise a solid argument against. So it's not like I'm going to hell for turning on the Disney channel (or stealing it over You Tube for that matter)... I'm only suffering cognitive dissonance for not being able to live out the distraction-free life of which I dream. The life where every moment is exciting or educational or productive. The life where no one needs to take a break and no one needs to be shut up.

Meanwhile, Harvey's nap is dangerously close to over and I still need to cook him noodles. You know what would open up a lot of time in my schedule? Not blogging!


Things we don't advertise

During our play time at the library today Harvey started to get sleepy. I asked him if he wanted to go home and take an early nap and he said, "Nursing?" "Yes," I said, sheepishly casting my eyes around me to see if the other mothers were in earshot, "We'll do nursing and then take a nap."

I don't know what the other mothers in my town, the non-hippy suburban mothers who's civility I desperately crave, I don't know what they'd think of breast-feeding an 18-month-old, let alone breast-feeding an 18-month-old while pregnant. I assume their opinion would be bad, so I try to never bring it up.

And even though some of my neighbors are going through similar sleep issues with their similarly aged child, I try to avoid the subject. In the past I learned that non-hippies don't respond kindly to the idea of co-sleeping. "Aren't you afraid of suffocation?" they'd say about an infant. "Won't he be too dependent?" I imagine the opinion of co-sleeping with a toddler is even worse. "Better nip THAT in the bud," they'd say. "What is he going to do when the baby arrives?"

Our culture doesn't love the idea of either nursing or co-sleeping. Maybe because we love sex so much, both nursing and co-sleeping make us feel icky. Not that I'm the one to diagnose or solve America's Freudian problems. Whatever it is, I just think it's a bummer. Breast-feeding is useful and healthy. But I'm more sad about the co-sleeping thing, because experimenting with crib sleeping at the beginning of Harvey's life caused so much anguish for me. When I was pregnant I had no idea that co-sleeping was even a thing that existed. I just assumed that all babies slept in cribs, period. When I learned about the co-sleeper-brand-product it seemed like a revelation to me - a crib but closer! Unfortunately, after Harvey's birth I couldn't put the thing on my side of the bed because it prevented me from rolling out to get to the bathroom. I couldn't scootch down past it because that would risk tearing. So Dan had to keep moving Harvey back and forth for nursing, and it was just one more thing that made me feel like all these outside forces were separating me from my baby. If I had known that co-sleeping was a thing with arguments for and against, if I had looked it up on the internet, instead of just deciding on my own after a trying time that the baby would sleep next to me come hell or high water, well, that would have been helpful.

But like I said, it's not the sort of thing that anyone would have brought up to me. Because I might judge them for getting all Oedipal with their newborn.

I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe I just wish the world were more like me so that my life could be easier (a thought that I'm sure no one has previously expressed in blog form). Maybe I just wish I was better at making friends. Maybe I ate a complaining pill for dinner.

Actually, I ate beer and saltines, but I hesitate to bring it up...


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!


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.


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?



For the last few weeks we here at the squibix household have been trying our hand at keeping the Sabbath, in our fashion. Since all of us are ornery, stubborn individualists—yes, even Rascal—instead of following an existing tradition we're working on figuring out just what a Sabbath day means for us. This means that we might be accused—justifiably!—of doing it wrong, but hopefully even the haters will agree that any attempt is better than nothing. Other folks will probably just think we're crazy religious freaks, but that's close enough to the truth that we can't complain.

So what are we actually doing? In the first place, we're taking our day of rest on Sunday, which I understand it rather non-standard (to say nothing of non-biblical). But we figured that, since we worship on Sunday, it's important to be able to take the time to focus on that rather than rushing around trying to get a hundred other things done—which would certainly be the case if we hadn't done any of them on Saturday. We are not refraining from using electricity, or from driving, or from bicycling or dancing: none of those feel like work to us. We are trying to keep work around the home to an absolute minimum, to avoid shopping, and to make a point of slowing down and enjoying the day.

Our results have been mixed, so far. We feel pretty far behind in the housework on a regular basis, so when piece of mind would be better served by getting some laundry done or bread baked than by leaving those tasks undone, we've been going ahead and doing them. We don't feel guilty about it: it's just pragmatic necessity. And we're just getting warmed up! Obviously, the goal is to be able to build that rest day into the schedule without stressing unduly at other times, and we have managed it a little bit. A couple weeks ago I prepared our Sunday dinner on Saturday, and it felt pretty nice to have a big hot meal with no more effort than popping it in the oven; today we managed to get all of the essential laundry done for the week to come. Will practice make perfect?

If nothing else, it's another notch on our intentionality stick. And I won't promise updates on our practice, but if we either fail utterly at making Sunday different from any other day or guide ourselves to a new sense of spirituality and peace, you'll read about it here.


hippy friends making you mourn the bjorn?

So this month or this week or something is national put your baby in a sling week or month or something. Whatever. It's a hippy awareness thing, and as a big non-joiner hippy myself I'm not going to bother looking it up.

We registered for a side sling before Harvey was born. Some friends very generously got together and bought it for us - at around $100 it wasn't cheap! I was wooed by the idea that I could cradle and snuggle my baby while I walked about the house, did laundry, etc. So when Harvey was born we tried putting him in there. And he screamed. And we tried again later. And he screamed and screamed. And another day. More screaming. Also, my one shoulder hurt, and it was pretty hard to reach for anything with a big baby hanging in front of me. So I threw the thing in the closet.

Look, it's not like I didn't hold my baby. When we were inside I spent pretty much every second of my maternity leave holding him. And doing nothing else. If we didn't get enough skin-to-skin contact during Harvey's first year, it wasn't for choice of hardware. It's because I friggin went back to work.

But outside of the house we did use a carrier, the baby bjorn, and I loved it. So small, so easy to use, every inch of it functional, and no large strap to push up a fat bubble around your waste. Nevertheless, my love for the bjorn puts me at odds with my hippy community. Some hippies even scolded me with wild tones they usually reserve for refined sugar: "NEVER use a popular front carrier! It puts pressure on the baby's HIPS and could damage his DEVELOPMENT!"

Oh man! There goes his future in interpretive dance!

Actually, there's no scientific evidence to back up this claim (and this coming from someone who chose home birth based on scientific evidence. Trust me - it's not just bias viewing of evidence. It's lack of evidence.) I mean seriously, does the entire country of Germany have hip problems? They've carried their babies in bjorns since the 1970s. I'm willing to accept that tofu is bad for you now, but not this. I think it's just reverse classism.

Indeed, the prejudice against bjorn is summed up succinctly in this post on a mothering board:

It seems like some of the criticism of front carriers is merely aimed at them because they are popular, used by upper middle class mainstream people, and don't look as natural/alternative as a sling.

I agree. Who said hippies were non-judgmental?

The truth is that your choice of baby hardware is not just about the well-being of you and your child - it's also about fitting into a tribe and advertising that membership to other mothers. In fact when we bought the Ergo carrier (for when Harvey grew out of the bjorn) the tag-line on the box said "Matches your lifestyle!"

Which is enough to convince me not to buy anymore baby hardware, because seriously. I call myself a hippy because I'm committed to living out some difficult choices for the sake of environment and community. Not because it's a more fashionable for of consumption.

Notice to baby shit makers: My values are not expressible in brand form.

So anyway, come baby number 2 I'll probably once again use the the baby bjorn, and if that makes me look like a yuppy from waste up, so be it. No one in their right mind would look at my pants and think I was a respectable member of society, anyway. Now I just need a customized hippy wrap to put around the thing when I go out in public. I'm thinking of a big quilted flag or something. Something that says "I gave birth at home, bitches. Back off."


one man's trash

I hate throwing anything away. Now, by that I don't mean that I have all kinds of junk that I can't bear to part with—true as that may be!—but that I can't toss anything into the trash can without picturing it sitting in a landfill for the next couple hundred years. Just now it was a baking powder container, lacquered cardboard and metal and dusted with baking powder. Could it have been recycled? Who knows. Orange juice cartons, ditto.

A couple days ago I read an internet discussion about whether tossing your apple core out the car window is littering. The consensus was that of course it was, because having a decaying apple core sitting on the ground for the length of time it would take to disappear—months, perhaps, or even years—would either uglify the property or upset the ecological balance of the area. There's something to that argument. And yet, when apple cores are disposed of "properly", swathed in plastic trash bags and entombed in landfills, they won't decompose for decades.

I don't know, I'm sure. Obviously, we can't all throw our apple cores in the same non-designated spot. But since that's not happening, I think I come down on the side of natural rather than official disposal; as long as it's unobtrusive, anyways. Happily, we can dispose of all the apple cores we want here on our own property without them entering the waste stream. That means we manage to only put out one or two 13-gallon bags of trash a week, which is perhaps acceptable if not superlative or noteworthy. And we could do better with a proper composting setup. Tissues, for example, don't need to go to the landfill. Maybe we can work on that as cold season approaches! I, um, think I need to talk to Leah about it before I take any drastic steps, though.


my boys and their Ts

I needed a quick success for myself this week so I made another t-shirt for Harvey. I up-cycled the material from a box of Dan's old t-shirts that are too big or too worn to be fashionable, but too precious to be thrown away.

harvey in an upcycled t-shirt

modeling at the playground

While I was surging up the side seams I got a flash of remembrance... an image of a sixteen year old boy in a green baggy t-shirt and cut-off shorts nonchalantly practicing rollerblade cross-overs on the corner of where his street meets mine. He's looking at the ground in front of him so his bangs cover his face entirely, and I am so painfully in love with him.

To think that that was 15 years ago, and now I'm turning the same shirt into something for our child.... it makes me believe that life is magical. Life is crazy and dazzling and amazing in its breathtaking boringness.

Or maybe this shirt isn't that old. I just grabbed it from the pile.

I'm going to make a few alterations to the pattern to fit my growing boy. The next version will be bigger in the chest with more room for the neck. This one is sort of clingy so that if Harvey sticks out his belly it looks like the sun is setting. You can kind of see it in the photo below.

harvey in a shirt with a sun on it

big belly sunset

Sunrise, sunset, etc.


on yer bike, Tebbit!

May is apparently "Bike Month" and this week is (or was) "Bike Week". To cap all the cycling-related celebrations (what, you didn't notice?!), tomorrow—that's Friday, May 21st—is Bike-to-Work Day! Not that you would have noticed unless you were already reading cycling-themed publications or websites, which is why I wanted to make sure and let you, the general public, know, just in time to come up with a plausible excuse as to why you didn't ride your bike to work. "It's too far" is a good one.

While I did manage to bike to work for a while this year, and still do whenever it fits around the child-care schedule—that is, Thursday and Friday—I do know that it is in fact very difficult for most folks to do. Heck, the only times I could make it last year were when my car was in the shop, and I have a much shorter commute than most. Still, there are people who manage it, like a coworker of mine who enjoys a blissful car-less existence in Somerville. When I told him about bike-to-work day, he replied that he'd be sure to ride tomorrow. He does sometimes take the bus, it must be said.

If you can manage it, though, it can be very rewarding. There's something about it that makes you feel apart from the workaday rush—certainly, you're probably going slower than everyone else (though not always). It can make even the morning commute enjoyable! I can't wait for the day when increased cargo capacity lets me do even the grocery shopping via cycle; at that point my smugness will be unstoppable. For tomorrow though, it's just to work.


we're in ur woods, hippying ur neighborhood

On my run this morning I ran into a friend from grad school who's contemplating a home birth. With her was a neighbor who's a birth educator by profession and also home-schools her kids and does a little light crafting. Which is to say: WATCH OUT, STATUS QUO! WE'RE TAKING OVER YOUR FRIGGIN NEIGHBORHOOD!

Well, the statistical sample may be skewed a little bit. Towards individuals crunchy enough to use their saturday morning to walk in the woods in the rain. nevertheless...

Last night we went out for margaritas with my parents at a restaurant (appropriately titled) Margaritas. Harvey was wearing his easter pants and seedling shirt. My mom recognized the pants and said, "Look what nice pants your momma made you!"

"I made the shirt too," I said. Because I don't let well enough stand.

"You MADE the shirt?!"


"Oh, you mean you sewed the leaf on it."

"No, I made the shirt."


"From cloth."

"You made this??? This is incredible! You made a whole shirt? I can't believe you made this!"

"I made the pattern too..."

And with that, my mother's head exploded.

So in conclusion, your level of outlandishness just depends on who you're talkin' too.

Why am I kind of wet? Oh yeah, because I just went running in the rain. I'm not too earthy crunchy to shower!


Anyone need some brain dev powder for a smoothie?

Another free sample came from enfamil in the mail. This time it's some special pre-toddler formula to help with growing brains. There's even a graph on the package indicating how 85% of Harvey's brain function will be formed by age 3, with the implication that regular food and, um, breast-milk aren't enough to fertilize his little mind like miracle grow.

Enfamil and their competitors have been working pretty hard to ensnare Harvey as one of their potential customers. Here's a sample of the free enticements they sent me before the baby was even born:

formula free samples

sampling is a high-cost high-return marketing tactic

5 large tins of powdered formula
3 single-serving formula sizes
two boxes of baby vitamin drops
one bottle
three nipples
one pacifier
one cold compress bag
a sports-themed bib
a to-go travel back-pack
a thousand pamphlets about the importance of starting your baby off right with good nutrition.
Goodnight Moon. As if we didn't already have two friggin copies of Goodnight Moon.

Breast-feeding in America can be hard. Sometimes it's hard because you don't have support from your healthcare provider to begin with. Sometimes it's hard because you don't stop getting Mastitis or because your breasts are riddled with festering sores. Sometimes it's hard because other people are assholes and don't want to see your boob in any fashion other than titillating.

And sometimes it's not that hard, but quitting seems so so so much easier.

This debate is already raging on the internet, and some people have better things to say than I do. I don't have anything more super deep to say; I just look at that image and it chills me to the core. You can unsubscribe from tv and magazines but you can't escape culture when it's mailed direct to your house every afternoon. Whatever it is that the culture values, good or bad. Brain development. Doing things the easy way. Buying shit.


On dealing with human effuse in a socially responsible manner and other topics that should not be blogged about before noon on a Monday

Every time I think I'm doing really good on the hippy environmental front, something like this comes into my blog reader. This woman is using cloth wipes FOR HER WHOLE FAMILY. No TP in the toilet for her. Down with disposables to the limit!

Holy shit.

I have a confession, my hippy friends. I have been buying and using disposable nursing pads. Johnson and Johnson's brand. They're about the equivalent of a roll of paper towels ever month. I may indeed be going to hippy hell.

I do own four cloth nursing pads. In fact, I'm wearing cloth today because the box of disposables ran out. I'll remind myself for a few days that cloth is really an option! I should just get my act together and wash them when I'm done! But I won't. I'll wash the baby's diapers and the baby's clothes. I'll finally put my own underwear through the cycle when I've been forced into thong territory for half a week. I don't even wash our sheets every time there's a pee-pee leak. I haven't washed the sheets in a month. I'm waiting for an industrial spill from oil tanker SS#2.

So yeah. Nursing pads. Failing it.

On the plus side I'm not using any tampons! Not because I'm brave enough to switch to a sea-creature sized device, but because I haven't gotten my period in 9 months. Hurray for my reproductive system being broken! My uterus is environmentally friendly! Also, since that whole machinery went into sleep last summer mode we haven't had sex either, which means no need for condoms! Which is a definite plus. You know those bastards take like a billion years to biodegrade.

Side Note to college-age boys trying to bed hippy activist lasses: this could be a good argument for more pleasurable sex! Condoms take too long to biodegrade! Tell her she can invest in a cervical cap and "get to know her body more."

Okay, this post is veering into dangerously disgusting territory. Then again, it started with putting your own poop rags in the washing machine. It didn't have far to go.

Later this week: Cute videos of babies and farm animals! Sorry for the interruption.



I'm not a champion sewer by any means. I mend. I dash off a stuffed lamb now and again. But I'm trying to move in a more competent direction. I'm making an effort. And this season, I've vowed to make a more concerted effort, especially in the face of the high cost of crappy boys clothing. So on Friday of last week I took scissors to another one of Dan's hand-me-downs and made Harvey a T-shirt.

Harvey modeling his new shirt at the pond

elegant and stylish

The first job I had out of college was at a store called Lululemon. At the time, Dan wore this Lululemon T-shirt so much the letters faded down in the middle. After a while it ended up in the pile of shirts that are no longer in rotation but were once so loved that they can't be thrown away. Now Harvey is proudly carrying the torch of Lululemon. or Ululemo in his case. His chest isn't that big.

I used this tutorial to make the shirt, and I can't wait to make another, and another, and ANOTHER! The stack of useless but beloved T-shirts is big, after all. By the time I've gone through it, maybe I'll really know how to sew.


it's in his jeans

This week I made Harvey some jeans.

close-up of Harvey's new home-made jeans

ready to rumble

I upcycled an old pair of Dan's jeans which had become too patched to be worn in polite company. I was going to make a simple pair of linen pants using this tutorial, but it turns out that I hate learning basic skills. If it can be done in linen, it can be done in jean, dammit! So after a lot of fudging and improvising an addition of knit fabric for the waist-band, I ended up making a cute pair of jeans for Harvey with plenty of room to grow (both vertically and horizontally).

Harvey's bum in his new jeans

shake what yo mamma gave you

The patches and slight bell-bottom and general cobbled-together nature of the pants make Harvey look like a real hippy. Much to the pride of his parents. The look is perfect for sitting outside on a gardening afternoon.

harvey in home-made pants in the garden

off the grid and out of the shitstem

I just need to make him a straw hat and he'll be all ready for spring!


Is Revolt Brewing All Over?

YES YES and YES!!!

I usually prefer to generate my own content rather than retweeting links that (hopefully) already come up in your RSS, but this tidbit of intellectual concision is just too good to pass up. On the parallels between homebirth and homeschooling:

In both cases, there is a problematic institution dominating a family’s life... For some kids, maybe for a majority of them, extremely regimented and test-oriented schooling is counterproductive...Just as women who choose non-hospital birth, or who fight to break down restrictions on hospital birth, are trying to reinvent what it means to give birth. They are rejecting hospital schedules, unnecessary procedures, and in some cases, the need to be in a hospital at all, in order to attempt a more direct, less disconnected form of giving birth.... In both cases, there are those motivated by liberal ideals and those motivated by strict religious views who are (sometimes) finding themselves allies.

Amen sister! As a homebirther who aspires to one day be a homeschooler, AND as someone with BOTH liberal ideals AND strict religious views, I'm truly on board with the idea that revolution begins at home.

However soggy that home happens to be at the moment.

Radical Homemakers

This is what we're going for. Too bad Shannon Hayes and Bob Hooper got there first to write the book, but that just means that the revolution is well under way. Sometimes it's nice to be part of something, rather than crazy and on your own.

My favorite part (from the introduction, which is available online):

[Radical homemaker] families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world. Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.


Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption. By this conventional standard, the household consumes food, clothing, household technologies, repair and debt services, electricity, entertainment, health-care services, and environmental resources.... [The authors' models'] household was not a unit of consumption. By growing their own food, living within their means, providing much of their own health care, and relying on community, family and barter for meeting their remaining needs, their household was essentially a unit of production (just not by the standards of a market economy). Thus, their income wasn’t critical to their well-being. [emphasis in original]

I will procure the book, and add it to our growing collection of inspiring material. We'll get there yet!


baby food

Since we've been hanging around with Harvey we've gotten to enjoy certain foods we otherwise would have denied ourselves. His Cheerios, for example, possess a certain appeal at breakfast time when we're too sleepy to consider more complicated alternatives (despite the fact that we invariably feel a little ill at the end of the bowl, we keep trying them). Leah is enjoying his rice cakes, which—even salt-less as they are—fill a crunchy-snack niche that would otherwise be mostly unoccupied in our household. I can't make crackers every day, you know.

We're trying to get him onto a wider variety of human foods—hippy human foods, I should say, since I have it on good authority that in the wider world Cheerios are not exclusively for infants—but we've been stymied by the advice presented in What to Expect: The First Year. I know, I know, but there it is in print! No eggs, even cooked in baked goods, until we first introduce egg yolks alone. Great, we can get him started on crème brulée. Since we're not really going to do that, we've stayed away from eggs altogether; and absent eggs, all the tastier sorts of baked goods are off limits. Our bread, too, is problematic because it has honey in it. I suppose I could make another recipe, but we like this one!

Still, we're looking forward to the day when he will be able to enjoy our foods as much as we do his. We're the parents here: we should be setting the food priorities! Although we probably won't complain if he starts bringing home McDonalds french fires for us to steal.


Cloth diapers - an informational hazing for hippy parents

Let's talk poop.

Before Harvey was even born we knew we would be committed to cloth diapers. One reason - the reason we say out loud - is that disposable diapers (or as pick-a-fight momma likes to say "plastic diapers") don't decompose in the environment for something like a hundred billion years. Or I don't know - it's a long time. For a family who heavy-heartedly chucks out a tiny half bag every week, that's a big poopy landfill to swallow (to mix metaphors into a disgusting visual image). The other reason - the one we don't say out loud - is that I'm colossally lazy. Well, lazy in one particular way, which is any way that involves leaving the house. Household items like toothpaste stay on the fridge-top list for so long that I'll be brushing with the dentist sample of kids-flavored fruit-smacks-gum for two weeks before I get my butt to the CVS. So to prevent diapering our child with paper towels wrapped in plastic bags, we invested up front in the cloth kind and never looked back.

Well, actually, now we're looking back to blog about it. Lucky you!

The main kind of diapers we looked into were diety-service diapers, flushable diapers, and pocket diapers. If there is any other category of cloth diapers I will be amazed, but you never know. Leaky poop all over your bed is the mother of invention, after all. (If you want a whole website of helpful cloth diaper comparison information, go there and stop reading this post!)

We decided on a pocket-type diaper because 1) there's no diaty service in our area, and 2) flushable diapers require walking from the changing table to the toilet, and like I said before, lazy. There are a bunch of different pocket-type diapers to choose from, but from my extensive research (okay, two friends and one website) the best is the Bum Genius 3.0. And how can you not be with a name like that?

We have about 30 diapers in various fun colors. When Harvey soils one we take the insert out and throw both diaper and insert into a big Simple Human pail lined with a cloth bag. (Each diaper comes with two different size inserts so that they fit him better as a newborn but absorb better when he's a heavy pee-er. Which Harvey is. A pee-er of the realm you could even say.)

Every other day we take out the bag (and put in a clean bag - you need two) and throw the diapers in the washer. You can't wash the diapers in the bag, but you can sort of press the bottom of the bag up to push all the diapers into the washer without touching them. Whatever - when you're a parent you touch a lot of gross things - you get over it. We wash the diapers for 30 minutes on cold with mountain green soap, and then 30 minutes on cold/hot again with soap. Then we put them in the dryer for an hour and they're done!

Well, not quite done. What you have then is a big laundry basket filled with diaper tops and diaper inserts. It takes about half an hour to put them all together and back into the baskets. But I wouldn't say that's a deterrent to the process. When you're watching a baby all day, there's A LOT of sitting around time.

We also use cloth wipes, which I highly recommend. We have about 50 of them. Half of them (actually 21 - I've counted) go in our wipes warmer (thanks Matt!) with a mixture of baby soap and water. The other stay in a basket by the changing pad, because sometimes you need both wet and dry wipes to do a job, if you know what I'm saying. If you're a parent, you know what I'm saying.

We didn't start cloth diapers for about two weeks were when Harvey was first born. This is mostly because I wanted to oversee the whole process vis a vis the washing machine, and didn't realize I wasn't going to get out of bed for that long. So other people put him in plastic diapers, and the world didn't implode. And I'll even say that for the first couple days where black tar-like liquid is coming out of your baby it's not a bad idea to throw away a few diapers. Mother nature won't fine you, and also the hundred grandparents in your house won't come in every five minutes while you're sleeping to say HOW DO I SNAP THIS THING ON, AGAIN???

Which is actually a big benefit of the bum genius that I forgot to mention - they go on like regular diapers, which is to say with the same general shape, so that even babysitters can do it. If you ever leave your child with a baby sitter that is. That's another issue.

Another time we took a break from bum genius was when we went camping at H=5-weeks-old. Then we brought along plastic diapers due to the lack of washing machine at the camp site. Our hippy identity was only saved by the fact that we were TAKING A 5-WEEK-OLD CAMPING!

Even so, I'm glad we had that brief experiment with plastic diapers, because it reaffirmed our belief that cloth diapers are actually neater. In the plastic ones Harvey's poop got all spread around and smushed to his butt causing more rash, whereas it absorbs better into the cloth ones. Also? Plastic diapers are really expensive! Sure the cloth ones are a big investment up front, but then we're done buying diapers until he's potty trained.

The other things I found helpful with diapering on the go are a big diaper bag, since packing cloth diapers takes a bit more room, and two wet bags for the road (two so that one can be in the wash sometimes - although a plastic bag from CVS will work just as well if you happened to forget your canvas bags at home one time you horrible hippy race traitor.)

And if you want more resources on washing cloth diapers, like I said I've found this site helpful. You can even print out their washing instructions and tape them to the front of the washing machine.

Beats paper towels any day.


a momentous step

A while ago we stopped taking the paper. Some time later we tried to cancel the tv—unsuccessfully, due to contractual obligations. Well, gentle readers, we are now beyond the contract period and our television feed is, as of this evening, cut off.

Actually, the contract was up in August. But it takes some time to work up to these things, you know! Wish us luck as we enter this brave new world of, um, watching tv on the computer.


put up or shut up

My stomach hurts and my mouth is sticky: evidence of another afternoon and evening spent making jam. Today I was successful with apple-cranberry jam and not entirely so with apple butter. It's still not quite buttery enough, even after nine hours in the slow cooker; we'll see what happens after some more cooking tomorrow.

I also re-cooked some peach jam that I made a couple months ago, because it was actually more like peach sauce, rather than anything that you would want to put on bread. So cooked down some more, with more liquid pectin. This jam stuff is more an art than a science hear at the squibix home, and I'm afraid I'm still drawing with crayons.

However, at least we're managing to put up some reasonable quantities of preserves. To date we have the equivalent of five gallons of jam, relish, and pickles, not counting the stuff in the freezer (which wouldn't stay good following a power loss due to nuclear war or global economic meltdown). Most of that is shown in that picture up at the top of this post. Not that we're planning to eat it all ourselves, of course. If you're on our Christmas list, look forward to delicious local, home-canned produce! Place your orders today.


they used to be as crappy as they are now

When we got a catalog the other day from "Back to Basics Toys" (tag line: "They Do Make Them Like They Used To!™") I was a little excited to see what was on offer. After all, we're old-school here at the squibix household: I think the best things we've gotten for Harvey so far are a set of little wooden cars and airplanes with an undeniable rugged appeal. More appealing in theory at this point, true, than in practice when I give him one and after chewing on it for a bit he drops it onto his forehead and cries, but still.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I paged through the book and found it was actually nothing more than the Greatest Hits of the 60s and 70s, toy style. It's not aimed at parents who want real, well-made toys, in other words, but at those who want to exercise their nostalgia by inflicting upon their offspring a variety of awful plastic crap from their own childhoods. I mean, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots? Fisher Price pull-along Chatter Telephone?! ("I had that one!" says Leah. It was already nostalgic then, having come out originally in 1962.) Plus some random Sharper Image-esque junk like a plastic piggy bank with an LED display of the balance. Needless to say we will not be placing any orders.

One wonders, though, what the response will be of the little tykes who do get something from Back to Basics on Christmas morning. The little girl on the cover (pictured above) seems, on the surface, happy enough with her matching set of dead-eyed Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls, but look a little closer and you can see the desperation... I bet she asked for a Bratz doll. Don't worry little girl, in thirty years you'll be able to get one for your own daughter from the Back to Basics catalog!


normalizing cycling

I rode to work in the pouring rain again yesterday. In my defense, it wasn't pouring when I started out—just drizzling. Then again, I knew it was going to pour, so I think the prosecutions wins that one. Two people commented that I was hard-core, but I really don't see what the big deal is. I mean, I wore my waterproof gear and it was a warm day, so there was really very little discomfort involved.

But then, there are people who are surprised I ride my bike even in the nicest of weather. One of the fourth graders was shocked, shocked! to hear that I had stopped by the grocery store to pick up straws (to make pyramids for math!). She remained incredulous even after I told her it was on the way: "it's not on the way from my house!" she said. Nope, I'm not coming from around the corner, even if I do arrive under my own power!


a saucy pictorial

We made applesauce yesterday. It involved quartering and coring about 30 apples, and tossing them in a pot with some water.

They cooked down for a while, until they got all mushy.

Leah ran them through our awesome food mill, a very thoughtful gift from Cara and Alan.

Rascal thought the process was taking a little too long, so he cuddled with a toy on the couch. Harvey missed the whole thing, having been sent up to bed before we got started.

We put the sauce in pint jars and processed them in the canning kettle, so they should be shelf-stable for a year or two. All those apples only made five pints, so we may have to do it again soon!


recycling comes last

I usually try to be funny with my posts but this one is serious business. A metafilter thread (why do I persist in reading that site?) brought to my attention once again that recycling is too often just a public-relations hoax, something that does no more than make us feel better about all the plastic water bottles we're using and tossing. "They'll be recycled! Hooray! Where's the bin?" That is, when we manage to recycle them at all, which the kids at school could sure use some practice on.

Even if the bottles do make it into the bin, and then the bin makes it to an actual recycling center—and Washington isn't the only place with that problem, I've worked at schools where the custodians toss everything in the dumpster because they "don't get paid" to do anything else—it still takes energy to turn old stuff into new stuff. It's not magic.

Which is why, of course, that recycling is the last of the three environmental "R"s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. So why do we hear so much about it? Because it's super easy, comparably! First, use fewer bottles. Then, put new water back into the bottles (for plant-watering only, if you worry about the plastic). Recycling is the last option: practically a failure, really. But of course, you all know all that. I just had to get it off my chest. Back to talking about the weather and cute babies and puppies tomorrow!


I Mammal, I Momma

The other night I had a terrible nightmare that we buried something in the back yard, some gruesome chopped up body part that we didn't want anyone to see, but we accidentally buried it on the neighbors yard by mistake, and a little girl was playing over the sandy mound where we buried it, and all the sand turned blood colored and stained her hands and dress, and the police were after us like on CSI. How could my brain conjur up such a terrifying image?

Over the weekend Dan did some work outside closing down the garden for winter. I was upstairs folding clothes while the baby napped. Suddenly Dan flung open the back door and stomped triumphantly up the stairs. "I've dug a hole" he said. "I'm ready to bury the placenta."

Yes, dear readership, it's been four months (Happy four month birthday Harvey!) and all this time this bizarre remnant has lurked in our freezer, terrorizing those who go in looking for the bag of raspberries which is RIGHT NEXT TO IT - OH DEAR LORD WHY ARE THE TWO ZIPLOCK BACKS OF RED FOOD AND NON-FOOD STUFFS RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER IN THE FREEZER?

It's not like we were hanging onto this thing for sentimental reasons. It's just that, well, taking care of a baby involves many non-hole-digging related tasks, and we're not the quickest to jump on non-necessary chores, witness the IKEA shelf which has been propped against the wall in the bedroom for six months, and you realize that four is not a terribly long time to take to bury an organ.

Anyway, we headed out into the garden with the accusing looking ziplock bag, which frozen felt actually quite heavy. I pealed back the plastic from the frozen mass as gingerly as I could, trying as best as possible not to touch the thing, because I know I should be like a crazy hippy and all, but still, eeeeeeeeeeeew!

Then I dropped it into the hole and Dan covered it up with dirt. The last remnant of the "first pregnancy" part of our lives. In some bizarre way I was sad to see this little part of me disappear under the ground. Harvey is getting so big and smart and human, it's like he's his own person or something. I want to remind us both: "Hey! I know you! You used to be inside of me, little thing. I'm your momma."



I rode my bike to work this morning, despite the cold rain and general yuckiness. As I wetly zipped past drivers sitting in traffic, we looked at each other, and both thought: sucker.

Why did I ride? Well, I guess it's this thing of trying to see biking as more than just a fun pastime. It is that, of course, but due to various recent events and conditions, I'm also interested in considering it a viable transportation form; in fact, the first transportation option, one that I default to absent any complicating conditions. And if I'm serious about that in New England, weather can't be a complicating condition. Not that I intend necessarily to ride every day, just that if I never ride in the rain there's something wrong with either my theory or my practice. I missed the last rainy day, so it had to be today.

And it really wasn't bad at all. Even my ancient rain gear kept me for the most part dry; the only part of me that was really significantly damp were my feet, especially, for some reason, my right foot. This didn't surprise me: not having a waterproof shoe solution, I chose to wear my beat-up old sneakers and wool socks. So, warm, if not dry. And sure, feet were plenty warm—albeit squishy—though I suppose I could have done without having to stand outside for half an hour in those wet shoes and socks doing traffic duty.

Really, the only downside to the whole deal was that everyone at work made fun of me and told me I'm insane. Well, perhaps. But I enjoyed the ride, I didn't get wet enough to have to change any clothes besides shoes and socks, and I got to stay true to my principles. Plus, it stopped raining by the afternoon. I stopped at the Lexington farmers market to buy a perhaps unsafe load of produce and delicious cider (thank you, new dork rack!), and just as I was getting back on the bike the sun came through the clouds right ahead of me, and I rode the rest of the way home with a patch of beautiful blue sky right over my head.



So this post may push us over the edge, in your mind, from a couple who is cute and quaint and hippy to a couple who has gone off the deep end into certifiably nutzoid un-american cultish madness. But Dan's last post reminded me, and I'm dying to talk about this publicly, so here goes...

We hate Halloween.

What? Forreal? How could anyone hate Halloween?!

Well, there are several good reasons. The bellyaches for one, and then the over-priced plastic costumes, of the enforced sluttyness of most female options (cheerleader or sexy kitten?). But I don't mind that stuff all that much, and I'll defend any teenager's right to express herself in an obscenely short skirt. It's just that, well, we're Christians. And Halloween is a celebration of all things occult. The neighborhood is already starting to fill up with displays of ghosts and skeletons. Then closer to the date we get the devils and the zombies. I mean, I don't want to confuse God about what team I'm on.

Like I said, you can call us nutzoid, and it would be fair. Nobody ever got excommunicated for dressing their baby up like a puppy dog. Certainly not after the pope saw the photo and was all like "awwwwww.... the baby looks like a puppy!"

But I feel like you can't attend a bonfire without burning stuff, and so it feels disingenuous to take part in a collective festival of ghoulies and ghosties. But then all the neighbors are asking us what Harvey is going to "be for Halloween" and I'm just thinking "He's getting baptized the following day... I don't want to fuck it up!"

Which reminds me, mark your calendars for Sunday November 1st. We're gonna throw the hottest baptism brunch you have ever seen. Costume optional.


my unsuitability for modern existance

We went to the mall today, to find some relief from the late afternoon heat and humidity. I guess some other people had the same idea; funny, I thought that more folks had air conditioning. It wasn't the crowds, though, that threw me, just the incredible number of stimuli they had going on there: we walked in through Macy's and just the different music blasting from each perfume booth (not to mention the smells) was overwhelming. Out in the mall proper add the gigantic advertisements pasted up everywhere (including, new since the last time we were there, on the pillars and the inside of the elevator doors) and, of course, the mall tvs. And the crowds too. I just can't handle it all anymore. Getting old, or maybe not having time to watch any tv, or even listen to the radio, is affecting my ability to process our modern culture. It'll be Sabbath Lake for me next.

Of course, I still do alright with the internet. A dozen tabs open, movie trailers, facebook, read one article while another one loads, you know the drill. But at least then I'm in a comfy chair.


to snip or not to snip?

Before we had a child we had a lot of time to mull over important parenting decisions. The decision to try a home birth was a long though-out, well researched project. I read two books, talked to a woman who had done one and another who was planning one, and grilled our potential midwife. And all this before I even went off the pill! By the time we got pregnant (On our first month trying - have I mentioned that before?) I was so confident about the home birth decision, I could have debated the surgeon general on the senate floor.

Then the baby came out, and important decisions we had never thought about started flying at us fast and furious. Should he sleep in our bed? Should we get him circumcised? Should we get him vaccinated? And if so, how much vaccinated? All these decisions needed to be made with the available mental capacity of a sleep-deprivation test dummy. No time to read books anymore. Barely enough time to check wikepedia.

The circumcision decisions took a lot of turns for us. Before Harvey was born Dan and I casually discussed having a boy and what we would do about the, err, foreskin issue. The extent of our logic was pretty much: meh, circumcised penises look normal, right? I've never seen an uncircumcised penis, have you? No? Then I guess it's settled.

BTW, just for the record, I wouldn't advise anyone to make any decisions based on the number of penises Dan and I have collectively viewed. It's not what you'd call a statistically significant sample.

Anyway, we were pretty sure we were having a girl, like 95% sure, so we didn't spend much more time meditating on infant penises. But then it was little Harvey, and not say a little Lily, that came shooting out, and when I took a gander at what he had between his legs, my emotional reactions ran in this order:

1) "IT'S A BOY!" (I wanted a boy... I win!)
2) "Is that okay?" (Oh crap, Dan wanted a girl...)

It was only towards the end of Harvey day 2 that the logistics of a circumcision started to become real to me. Like, for example, that we would need to go to a hospital. Which entailed getting in the car. Which necessitated setting up the car-seat. And I'm in bed. And like, really lazy.

No, it was more than just laziness. Rebecca the midwife came over on day 2 and brought with her a heal-slick test that necessitated taking several drops of blood from Harvey's foot. It's a rather non-invasive procedure, except that Harvey wasn't a terrific bleeder, so the ordeal took several pricks over the course of five minutes. During the test, I held the baby while he screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed. He screamed like the world was ending. "WAAAA WAAAAA WAAAAA," he said, "REBECCA IS KILLING ME! WHY AREN'T YOU SAVING ME MOMMA?????" Well, at least that's what I heard. After everyone left that afternoon Dan and I lay side-by-side in the bed trying to catch our breath. I think Dan was the one that brought up this issue. "I'm not so sure about the circumcision thing."

Me neither. Indeed, at that moment there was no way I was stepping inside of that sterile smelling chamber of horrors with my child, certainly not for a voluntary mutilation. But before I could let apathy run its course I had to assuage my original fears regarding the appearance of God-given peni. So I (gulp) googled "uncircumcised penis."

Hey, I'm not that dumb... I didn't click on image search.

Seeing as I didn't search for something like "uncircumcised penis totally hard" or "uncircumcised penis and hot asian sluts," the first entry was Wikepedia. Thank You Wikepedia for containing all the search strings in the world! You saved my computer!

In a very scientific fashion, wikepedia showed me images of an adult circumcised penis next to an uncircumcised one, both in flaccid and erect states. For my part I was like, Really? This is what all the fuss is about? I had imagined a natural member acting something like the head of the medusa... Don't look at it or you'll be turned to stone!!! In reality, it looks, um, like a penis. No more or less scary (depending on your mood) than the typical variety.

But of course, circumcision is first and foremost a religious issue, so we consulted with the bible. The practice comes from Genesis 17, in which God establishes the covenant of circumcision with Abraham. Still, as Christians we tend to put a bit more weight on the New Testament, which is good since in the case of circumcision at least it's less baffling. In Romans 4 we have a long theological discussion from Paul to convince us that the uncircumcised still share in Abraham's inheritance, because Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them." And an even a more straight-forward command came to the folks in Corinth: "Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." (1 Corinthians 7:18)

So that sealed the deal religiously, but there was still the matter of telling my parents. I didn't bring up Paul's letters (who's whatters?) or the unspoken truth that um, like, I'm not Jewish anymore. I just said that this was our decision and we done made it. Subtext? I'm Harvey's Momma. You wanna hang out with him? You gotta go through me.

Shanda aside (it's yiddish for GOD FORBID ANYONE ELSE SHOULD HAVE SUCH A DAUGHTER WHO BRINGS SHAME ON HER FAMILY) I'm pretty happy about our decision, especially when I look at that cute little penis peeing all over the changing table and I know that he gets to keep 100% of what God gave him. May all our parenting decisions be so rewarding in the end!

Speaking of which, first vaccinations are on Thursday. Ugh.


ahead of the trend

It turns out that going without air conditioning is all the rage these days; even the New York Times says so (via Path to Freedom). The article suggests that passing up artificial cooling can save households $2000 or more, help people get thin, and bring families together... pretty good! It turns out that by using fans at night and closing up the house during the day life can actually keep things livable, and when the interior temperature is closer to what you have outside it's actually possible to go outside on a summer day without immediately dying or, you know, melting or something.

Unfortunately, we've been AC-less for some time now, so I guess that means we're as thin and family-unified as we're likely to get. Maybe the electric company could send us that $2000 as a gesture of thanks for our sacrifice?


Because the midwives feared God, they did not obey the Pharaoh.

This week has been rather trying, medically speaking. The worst part of the mastitis was not the pain or the fever, but the fact that it required antibiotics, which required going to the doctor, which required another lecture on why my choice of midwife care is just about the most irresponsible thing next to delivering a child into a vat of snakes and sharp objects.

To complicate matters, I recently changed primary care physicians, as a result of a particularly annoying incident three weeks ago. You see, a week after the birth I wanted to come in to the office for a cortisone shot which the midwife recommended but could not administer. So I called my PCP's office, and spoke with the receptionist who after consulting with the doctor told me which that they didn't keep cortisone on hand, but nevertheless wanted me to come into the office for triage appointment because they did not trust the diagnostic skills of my midwife. The conversation went something like this:

*Doctor's receptionist: The doctor says that swelling in that area could mean a lot of things, so she want's to see you to make sure it's not more than just swelling.
Me: I know. That's why I got checked out by my midwife yesterday.
Receptionist: The doctor would still like you to come in today so she can see you.
Me: But you can't treat me in the office because you don't have the cortisone.
Receptionist: Yes but we can triage you here and refer you somewhere else for treatment.
Me: Somewhere else in the building?
Receptionist: No...
Me: Thanks, but I don't want to spend the afternoon driving around the city with a week-old baby.
Receptionist: Yes but the doctor wants to see you because swelling in that area could mean a lot of things.
Me: I understand that. That's why I was seen by a midwife yesterday. She determined I need a cortisone shot, which you can't do. Thanks for your help, but I'm going to try to find somewhere that can do it.
Receptionist: The doctor would really like to see you today. Swelling in that area can be a lot of different things. Can you come in at 2:00?*

Repeat *to* 4 times until conversation exceeds 20 minutes or your brain explodes.

The receptionist actually refused to let me get off the phone without making an appointment. In the end, I had to end with a sentence like "Thanks for all your help but I'm really not going to come in for a triage appointment if you can't do anything there" and immediately hung up the phone. The office called me back five minutes later. "We've moved around some patients; can you come in at 11?"

Needless to say I quit that doctor. I signed up with a new PCP, registered the change with Blue Cross, and made my first appointment for this coming Wednesday. Unfortunately, my health didn't fall in line with my appointment timetable, and I called them on Monday with a need for antibiotics. After answering the same five questions to three separate people (Who's Your OB? What hospital did you deliver at? and other similar questions to which the answers exploded their brains!) I was told the nurse would phone me back. My new doctor's office is so elite that you can't even make an appointment; you have to wait for them to call you!

A nurse did call me back half an hour later, and the specifics of the conversation are too disturbing and un-humorous to repeat verbatim. Suffice it to say that she was very angry I was calling her office for this sort of thing, since they don't ever see women until after 6 weeks postpartum, and what on earth was I doing with some sort of charlatan midwife who can't write a prescription. (Note: no home birth midwives can write prescriptions. If you have a prescription-writing midwife, she's a nurse midwife and you deliver in the hospital.) The verbal dressing-down was so severe that I found myself saying things like: "Im sorry I called, I just thought that because you guys are my primary care office..." and "I understand if you don't feel comfortable treating me."

Now I'm no doctor, but isn't that somewhat f-ed up?

In the end, the nurse just wanted to feel like Mother Theresa for scheduling an appointment ("I wouldn't want you to go without care!") and I got my antibiotics after all. Although the whole incident made me want to stockpile drugs ordered off the internet. Did you know you can get a full bottle of erythromycin from India for twenty bucks? I do now.

I never wanted to be this sort of... what's the right metaphor... lightening rod? poster child? whipping boy? I just wanted a better birth for my family, and now I would also sometimes like prescription drugs for legitimate medical issues. I don't want to seem greedy, but can't I have both?


Staying home when it counts

It looks like Heather, who's annoying blog I DON'T READ, was convinced to try natural childbirth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein's book Your Best Birth. For our part, Dan and I were convinced that homebirth by midwife was our only option after reading the book Pushed by Jennifer Block, which I picked up last summer on a whim from the new nonfiction section of our local library. It should be encouraging to activists and journalists everywhere that books-length exposes still have the ability to blow people's minds and completely alter people's behavior. That, or maternity care in the US is just THAT BAD.

As big hippies, (and Christian hippies at that) it wasn't a huge leap for us into the homebirth polemic. We are suspicious of doctors, we hate hospitals, and we think that God has a pretty solid plan for making more people.

Still, the decision for me was more based on stats based than faith. For low-risk mothers, the home is a safer place than the hospital. 8% of home births end in C-section, while 30% of hospital births do. There are other benchmarks to compare: episiotomy rates, length of labor, etc. But or me, the risk of C-section was the kicker. This is an intervention that decreases the safety of each subsequent child, eventually leaving the size of your family up to a doctor's judgement. Many of these procedures happen as precautionary safety measures, but I wasn't interested in mitigating microscopic risks with one-in-ten-thousand occurrences by taking on a three-in-ten risk of abdomen surgery. For me, that's a dumbass way to play the odds.

People's first major argument against homebirth is fear of complications that can't be managed in the home. In terms of medical preparedness, I have in my mind this image of stepping out of the tub immediately after giving birth and seeing the baby's changing table covered with rows and rows of labeled syringes, all at the ready with blood clotting agents and adrenaline and who knows what else. I looked around the room to see trays of sterile instruments and oxygen tanks, and all I could think was "When did this get here?" While I was closing my eyes and biting a towel it was like a staging crew from NBC's ER flooded the place.

The second sticking point that makes woman smile and back away when I mention homebirth is the pain issue. Yes, birth is painful. As someone with a very low pain threshold, I firmly agree that birth is painful. It's very very painful. But then it's over. I compare it to the experience of passing the worst Mexican food you ever ate; just as you think you are about to die from discomfort, the whole thing is done and you think, "Glad that's over with! I'm so happy to no longer be on the toilet!" Well, that was what birth was like for me: uncomfortable, and then done. And then I wasn't in the hospital, I wasn't all drugged up, and I had my baby right with me ready to bond. Also, I had the vindication that my body really did do what God created it to do, but that's a personal matter.

So I'm glad that crazy people like Heather are following the lead of crazy hippies like us. Who knew we could unite over something?


My body, my temple

Last night we went out on our first dinner date with baby, and it's a symbol of how far we've fallen on our hippy parenting ideals that we took him to Friendly's. (It wasn't my first choice for food, but we didn't want to drive farther than 5 minutes, and we didn't want to go somewhere where they'd mind if he cried.)

Anyway, the waitress comes up to ask if we want anything to drink, and all of a sudden my eyes light up and I'm like, "Can I have a DIET COKE???????!!!"

Okay, so it may be just the novelty factor of not being pregnant, but I ate a tuna-fish sandwich the other day and it was like the best orgasm of food that I had ever tasted. Other things that I am finding awesome about the sanctity of my own blood supply: Lying on my back... Lying on my STOMACH!!!!!.... having normal human reactions to food smells... regaining visual contact with my nether regions.

And in the next few days when I'm able to stand and walk again, I'm looking forward to experiencing more exciting beacons from the land of the living... oh to be able to run again! To get on a spin bike! To lift weights over my head and hold my breath!


never mind the reason why

I rode my bike to work today, because I care about sustainability and things just that much. Also because my car is broken and in the shop, but still! It was a perfect day to bike, because the weather was great and at least this morning the traffic was terrible. It makes the desperate wheezing and aching muscles more bearable when you pass more cars than pass you, I think.

Of course, it doesn't matter why you choose to represent, hippie-style, because it's the actions that count. Just like this afternoon, when I (finally, says Leah) tried to call and cancel the tv service, the nice woman at Verizon wanted to know why we didn't want it any more.

"Well," I said, "we don't really watch it very much, and we're trying to simplify our life, and we have a baby coming and..."

"So you're interested in reducing your bill? Ok."

I suppose there isn't a box on her customer service ap for "customers trying to maintain integrity and not be slaves to popular culture," so "reducing our bill" it is. It's a factor, to be sure.


are we all spoiled?

Spring smells good this year. I understand why folks have always wanted to bottle the scent of various flowers, because I wouldn't mind smelling lilacs, say, in October. The same thing is true for colors, I think, though of course now we can make any color we want any time of year. It doesn't make us appreciate spring flowers any less, I don't think, but maybe it changes the nature of the appeal. I thought of it a few weeks ago when I saw an orange plastic bit among some not-yet-blooming daffodils: imagine what life was like when you couldn't see yellow from November to April! Well, not really; there were always egg yolks.

I wouldn't mind if I were reduced to using only natural dyes, which are (as I understand it) necessarily more muted than the substances from which they're derived. But even as it is the pink azalea that started blooming yesterday is pretty exciting, and so is just the green of the leaves closing in. I'm easily amused, I suppose.


sticker shock

I know it makes grocery store checkout a little more convenient, but I wish that industrial fruit producers would refrain from putting those stupid stickers on every single piece of fruit they ship. Who could ever be expected to take them off lemon rinds or banana peels, or any of the other excess bits of fruit that get tossed into the compost? Not us, which means that our compost is sprinkled liberally with the little things, which have made it through the winter and the total decomposition of their parent fruits without the slightest change to their own appearance. It makes me wonder, how we cheerfully make and use "disposable" things that'll outlast us by years or centuries!

prayer for recess

It doesn't seem like the elementary school children are going to get to play in the snow at all during school hours. The policy, as I understand it, is that if even the wind-chill is below 20°F we all have to stay indoors; naturally, as that wind-chill rating is reached any time the air temperature is 26° or below and there is any air moving, we have a great many indoor recesses during the winter months. As what I think about the popular reaction to what's described as "cold weather" is well known around here, I won't reiterate it further.

In any case, even if we did manage to get outside the poor wee bairns wouldn't have an easy time having any actual fun. No picking up snow, no standing on snow piles, no going on the ice (or any vaguely ice-like patches of slippery snow), no sliding down the hill any other way than sitting up facing forwards... whoosh! Far be it from me to question the wisdom of the administration as expressed through the will of the recess aides—the liability is not mine, nor the need to handle any potential parent complaints—but I do take exception to the self-righteousness with which a few of the authorities enforce the anti-snow-fun diktats. I'd be amused to hear what their own winter recesses were like, lo these many years ago. A little different, I'd be willing to bet. Me, I harken back to the recesses described by Mark Twain and Laura Ingells Wilder, where the kids got kicked out of the schoolhouse for an hour or so and had to fend for themselves without any rules to keep them safe. As long as enough youngsters survive to ensure the continuation of the species, isn't that good enough for us?


suburban homesteading

There's all kinds of talk about urban homesteading, which is apparently all the rage in LA, but what about those of us stuck in the suburbs? The cold, northern suburbs at that? Well, there is, but it, um, doesn't seem to have much content—perhaps it's actually an art piece about the sterility of the suburban existence.

Well, our suburbs aren't sterile! Tom and Nelly visited from the country, and we were able to send them away with a home-grown lettuce and a home-baked loaf of bread. It's still early days, of course, but we're doing respectably. We have to stay hard at work, though, if for no other reason than to stay ahead of the neighbors! Almost everyone in the neighborhood has been hard at work in the vegetable garden this year (well, for varying definitions of hard), and our neighbor next-door was even talking about getting chickens or even a goat. No fair! That was our idea! If we ever do get any of those critters we'll be sure to brag about it on the internet, to let those urban-dwellers know that they don't have all of the action.

I also hear that people occasionally grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural areas. Nobody seems to care about that on the internet, though.


don't take it for granted!

Modern housewives (and -husbands), you may have become used to doing laundry in your washing machines and dryers—it may even have become such a chore that you curse the machines as the engines of your drudgery. Don't! I am here to report that, if you could but experience a week without your time-saving mechanical aids, you would positively thrill each time you descended into the basement (or, you know, walked into the laundry room or whatever) to retrieve towels rendered magically clean and fluffy with scarcely any intervention on your part.

Especially the fluffy. Have you ever used towels dried on the line? Leah has, and she reports that they are most accurately compared to sandpaper stapled to thick cardboard. This was our lot for a week, when our dryer was broken. However, now that I have fixed it with my manly repairing-things prowess (and real workman trousers!) it is back to its old magical self. Well, almost. The towels still take two or three cycles to dry properly. Everything else is working great, though! It sure is nice to be able to do four or five loads of laundry in one day, instead of waiting for the April sun to slowly slowly maybe almost dry one load over the course of eight hours on the line. Although as hippies we still totally support line drying to save electricity. Totally. Though maybe not for towels.


the right to bare feet

This week is the best week of the year, as far as weather is concerned. It's all downhill from here! However, we enjoy it while we can, which means working in the garden and not wearing shoes. I always welcome the opportunity to kick off the shoes when I can, but this year it's not only about comfort: no, it's a statement about my deepest values, and an investment in my health too!

See, it turns out that shoes are bad for your feet—or at least someone at New York Magazine thinks so. Sounds good to me. The article I linked to there was posted on MetaFilter and Boing Boing, so I got to read a great deal of interesting commentary on it, both by crazy hippies who go barefoot all the time, and by suave urbanites who cannot imagine taking off their shoes, ever. They might step on a slug!

Really, that was the serious suggestion of one commentator. Also pointed out as potential hazards of the barefoot lifestyle were broken glass, fallen arches, dirt, callouses, HIV-infected needles, pavement, worms, "monkey-like feet", and putting podiatrists out of business. Folks also suggested that the co-evolution of our feet with our urban environment means that, while it was obviously acceptable for our ancient ancestors to go shoeless, it will no longer work out. The ground is just too hard now.

Another group of staunch anti-barefoots took the line that going without footwear marks the shoeless as "college-educated liberals with too much time on their hands." Since that pretty much describes me, I suppose I must do my part to uphold the stereotype and forgo shoes for the summer. After all, if the shoe fits...


a stirring tale

Every time we open a new jar of peanut butter, we face the same struggle. How, we wonder despairingly, are we ever going to stir in the oil that has separated out without spilling it all over the counter and, even worse, the outside of the jar, from which place it will never be completely removed? Is it even humanly possible?!

Well, I am happy to report that indeed it is indeed, and that I have achieved it with our current jar. And what a difference it makes to the quality of the peanut butter! Even now, more than halfway through the jar, the peanut butter is still a joy to spread—a far cry from the near-solid mass we usually face by this point in the PB cycle. So take heart, fellow consumers of hippy-style nut betters: there is yet hope!

cold comfort

As I think I've mentioned before, our house here gets the coldest at the borders between seasons. Not that spring is around the corner, but yesterday was warm enough that we had the door open downstairs (and, naturally, the heat off). Then it got cold at night, outside and inside too. Leah woke up early to go to a 6:00 am class at the gym, and I stayed in bed and pulled the covers over my head. I find that that is only necessary when the temperature in the bedroom drops below 55°, and indeed it was around 52° when I finally worked up the courage to leave my cozy cocoon. Our pioneer forefathers had to deal with water in their washbasins freezing overnight, so we still have a ways to go before we can be said to have measured up to their inspiring example, but I think we're getting there!

And, I baked bread today. Just like the pioneers did. Except using the electric mixer.


no news is good news

Well, we finally built up enough indignation over its coverage to cancel the Boston Globe: Leah got so angry as I read her a story about the Maine primary that she called right up and told them she didn't want to see another issue of their stinking rag. She said the gentleman she spoke to on the phone was quite nice! The result, naturally, was no paper this morning. So far we are surviving.

While the immediate cause of our annoyance (or fury, in 50% of cases) was the perceived pro-Clinton slant of reporting, it was only the last in a long string of strikes against the paper. There was also the price—$30 a month isn't small potatoes to poor folk like us—and the general lack of applicability to our lives of anything the paper had to offer. Really, their audience is well-off, urban-focused older people, which are three things that we very much are not. Well, I suppose we're older than some, but you know what I mean. We're young at heart, gosh-darnit, and we're not interested in reading about expensive wines or Italian vacations or retirement homes or incontinence treatments or whatever is all the rage these days with the boomer set. Also, there's the environmental impact.

So yes, we are now free of the morning paper and we'll have to talk to each other at breakfast. Or read school work and The Economist respectively, like we did this morning.