“just keep ’em appetizing!”

The last few days have been full of lots of home-cooking. A broccoli, swiss, and pepperjack quiche, an apple pie with oat, brown sugar, pecan and cranberry topping, baguettes, green beans, mashed potatoes (SERIOUSLY Ralph does a great job on these), pot roast and green beans, spaghetti and meatballs (in case you’re wondering, two days ago Phoenix emphatically lifted vegetarian requirements but suggests organic and/or ethical meat when we cook with it), butter broccoli, roasted garbanzo beans atop red and white basmati rice (again, Ralph nailed this one) with an attendant fresh-veggie tray, salad with butter lettuce and cherry tomatoes that burst in one’s mouth, sweet tea and our usual hot coffee, ice cold Red Hook beer.

I struggle with occasional experiences of guilt when it comes to my kids and their care – food is an aspect of that care and it’s hard to feel daily okay about my efforts (unless you’ve been a mom you may not fully understand – not that every mom necessarily does, either).  In a more balanced vein, the part of me that feels genuinely Me instead of feeling under pressure, one of my pleasures in life is to cook for those who enjoy the food provided; there is an additional pleasure I get in seeing my kids devour everything on their plates (which they don’t always do, but for instance they did tonight). I think it’s a pretty simple thing, really. Their bodies and minds are strong and beautiful and growing; their robust appetite reminds me of this and feels like an odd sense of security and love. I also genuinely enjoy it when I’m able to provide someone with the exact thing they want, and my family loves what I provide. My kids tell me fresh bread or lemon asparagus or frijoles refritos or hardboiled eggs and carrot sticks or bún thịt xào; I can make it happen as if by magic, and always with love.

Tonight I worked right up until I realized it was long time for me to rest. I wanted to be brave enough to not do the dishes (Ralph almost always does them but tonight he watched a movie with me instead). But, no dice, becuase once I get an idea in my head it’s hard to let it go. Just after 4 AM I washed dishes and wiped counters and made some new sweet tea for Ralph tomorrow but soon l I felt genuinely beat, and I still had more work to do. I followed the kids through their bath and picked up bath toys and re-sorted tidied the living room…

and got a cold beer and came to bed and turned on a ghost television show on Netflix …

And now? Close the laptop and take a few minutes with the kiddos before Slumbertown, Population: Us.

ropa y la frugalidad

I buy from thrift stores not to augment my wardrobe but out of familial necessity.* That is, we can afford some stuff new but we could not come near clothing all four of us in entirety that way. There’s a matter of how often I want to have to buy things, too, because the “new” we can afford is often something that will need to be replaced soon. I’d rather spend one hour hunting through a good thrift store than commit to repetitive trips to buy from Walmart, Target, or Old Navy (the retailers in our price point) for two reasons: one, I buy used when it is no loss of quality to do so, to lessen the environmental impact of consumerism and production, and two, I can often find longer-lasting items than anything otherwise affordable.

Outfitting oneself in clothes when there isn’t enough to make it easy is a bit of an art. Clothes can be very cheap at some retailers (competition with sweatshops is one reason my sewing skills aren’t instantly a major source of income) but there is often a risk of poor construction, poor performance, or poor longevity – or all the above. Case in point: last winter I bought a coat from Ross – originally marked $130 but showily price-slashed to $49 (this coat, but fat-size). Upon my purchase I was pretty happy to have a “warm” coat but as it’s turned out, even though there is wool content the coat is not very warm at all; it’s also showing rather threadbare only a year later. In contrast, the Pendleton wool I bought Ralph a dozen years ago (when I was working as an engineer), even through his very rough and frequent usage, looks almost brand-new and performs wonderfully.

Why not just “save up” and buy the good stuff? Yeah, right. When it comes to clothing and a single and/or limited income, the curation of well-made items is quite tricky or impossible when at any minute several members of the family have needs. For example, recently during a period of clothing deprivation – I was down to two shabby bras, a pair of too-small jeans and a pair of torn jeans for pants, Ralph needed pants and socks and the kids needed socks and underwear – I purchased Nels’ current sock supply from Walmart. They’ve not lasted six months, but it was all I could do. I remember a few years ago buying the kids higher quality socks which lasted years. There’s some fancy economics term for short-term buying out of necessity, but it escapes me.

In recent months I’ve had even more interest in self-educating regarding fabric and clothing construction. I’ve also observed after years and years of purchasing or making clothing, mending it (or not), and passing it along (or not), that the clothes I make are almost uniformly much longer-lasting than anything I’ve purchased new. If you include the wear they receive by both my children then the wear they receive in other homes they are a good investment indeed. Not that I particularly need to justify my deeply-loved craft, but it feels good to know I’ve got something you can’t buy just anywhere. And most importantly to me at least, it feels like the mystery of Well Made is something Knowable and Workable. This is exciting for me.

I am painfully aware that people in my own community, and certainly the larger world, lack for clothing. I remember a snowy bus day a couple years ago when I was rather shocked at what everyone else on the bus was wearing – soggy cold jeans with holes in the knees, many layers of polyfill coats, and cheap or bedraggled footwear while I sat in my waterproof Keens with homeknit balaclava pulled low. In other words, “making do” means different things to many people, and in describing our process and our clothing I don’t mean to pull my mouth down about it; we are certainly in a position of ease and privilege when compared to many.

Today at Thrift City I purchased the following: for Phoenix, an Italian merino sweater, a cotton zip-hoodie, pair of striped slacks, and a pair of dragon-screenprinted Converse sneakers (seriously. Is there anything better-designed for my girl?);  for Nels, two t-shirts and a Patagonia shirt that will be sacrificed for a homesewn Christmas present (shh!); for myself, four t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of Ralph Lauren 100% wool trousers, and a 100% wool blazer.

I brought all of this for a little under $40. The converse, Patagonia shirt, three of my t-shirts, and striped slacks were all brand new; the rest were in excellent condition. The coat is a particular thrill for me – yes, it’s a bit “old man” in style (OK, like 100%), but if good clothes are hard to find they are very hard to find if you’re a lady of a certain height (not me) or larger than about a size 10 (I’m a 14/16). This coat buttons across my chest and is light and tailored and toasty warm. It shows signs of well-made as well: the undercollar is understiched at collar seam and handstitched at neckline and the expertly-applied satin tag reads: Daniel’s Department Store Inc. Moscow Idaho. The wool trousers, too, fit perfectly and are delightfully wool-itchy. The two seriously winter-savvy garments were about ten dollars together and I certainly couldn’t have sewn them for less (and it would have taken me hours). I’m looking forward to a lot more comfort out in the cold and wind.

In sewing news I’m currently planning some more projects to perhaps display in a maybe-fiber arts show at the Guild. I’m mostly a garment-maker and pattern-follower, so stretching a bit to find my artistic voice is exciting indeed. I’m currently working on a super-warm bunting and fashioning the shell on my old Singer, my trusty vintage machine that makes the best buttonholes and sews more pleasingly than any I’ve worked on. Both my sewing machines were gifts as well; it occurs to me one of my most treasured and loved occupations is a community effort; I owe so much of my craft and inspiration and materials to friends and family who’ve helped me along the way.

So far, my craft of garment-sewing and my job (among many) of clothing a family has truly been a blessed and humbling experience.

* Argh… this reminds me of an incident in Thrift City not that long ago. A couple very well-heeled hipster young ladies breezing through the store and looking for vintage frocks, talking loudly. I was admiring their style when one of them dropped one of the pieces of clothing they were thumbing through and either didn’t notice or didn’t care; my son Nels ran over and picked up the item and tried to hand it back to her. “EXCUSE ME,” she honked at him, clearly irritated he was “in her way” but not at all seeing what he was trying to do. She irritably moved a few inches away, continued to ignore him, and said, “Go back to your mom” without even looking up. Fuck! I wish I didn’t have this memory of Asshattery etched into my mind! Someone send me a link of something egregiously charming or silly so I can wash my brain out.

SCIENCEOLOGY

Guess what I didn’t do today, or yesterday, or (arguably) Saturday? Take care of myself properly. My body, my mind, my spirit. Ralph and I worked hard all weekend and I didn’t rest like I promised myself I would; I didn’t feed myself the foods that help me feel better. Today I woke severely hungover (rare for me) – we’re talking dizzy and almost nauseated. It was bad enough I elected not to go for a run (although a run sounded fabulous and sweaty and detoxing; I took the Internetz’ advice I was dehydrated and shouldn’t do it): tomorrow, then. I also did not eat food until 4 PM. I was just doing so much other awesome stuff.

The weekend was unrestful because I was working my wide, flat ass off in making something happen for my kiddos, and that is: an organized space with proper lighting and some chairs (I’ve mentioned previously they had one wee kiddie desk and chair I got for $10 at a garage sale; their books were stacked on the floor). I’ve been meaning to do this for some time but something special happened (more in a minute) so I scrumped and worked to make it a reality:

IKEA something-or-other

Art / Light

Large Table

In that bottom photo, see that on the desk? It’s a microcsope; a lovely one sent to me by reader T. and completely, thoroughly awesome. I had one as a child and I loved it so much. My brother still has its metal skeleton and says he’s going to have it fixed! This one is nicer than our beloved ‘scope of yesteryear, but very similar. Both kids have been enjoying it and Phoenix instinctively knew how to use it (or she’d read about it); I’m pretty sure she hadn’t used one before. I’m going to NERDILY be all over the internet looking for additional slide kits.

Such a lovely, lovely gift.

Oh and I love Nels’ acrylic painting on the right: “Clam”. No one bought it in our recent art showing. Their loss, my gain.

Oatcakes & roll-ups & roasted garbanzo beans (P.S. my friend J. and I are looking for more appetizing name than “chard roll-up” if you have one; click the picture for the ingredient list):

Oatcakes Of Goodness

Do you feel like reading somethings thinky and internetty? Two articles from today; one I wrote for Underbellie (many links and I’d love it if you followed at least those in the body of the article); also an anecdotal and very sweet piece on advice to NOT give homeschoolers. Or schooling families. Marianne Kirby hit it out of the park with two posts on her blog; a brief and relevant foray into “manliness”, and a longer entreaty on the necessary and hard work of deconstructing body self-loathing.

What’s a girl gotta do to get a rest around these parts? Prolly stop behaving as if she never needs one.

i tried looking up quotes about failure but they were all depressingly bootstrappy

Today my many failures smirk from the corner of my ill-lit kitchen, leaned against the wall with arms crossed, sarcastically raising their eyebrows at my futile attempts to simply keep going. I’d been ignoring them for some time, primly folding fabric and wiping down counters and using my cheerful voice and washing and cutting up vegetables and all those typical things I do. I’d been thinking if I just kept working then pretty soon the failures wouldn’t seem so bad, and I’d have my little proofs at my competence and goodness and merit, and I’ll sweep these narratives out the gap like the dust from the back porch, close my door/mind and they will be gone.

Yet the failures stack up perfectly and make an airtight case. Many are small, incidental; some are large, oppressive. Perhaps no one wants to hear them enumerated here but I need them out of my mind, their crushing and entirely accurate little proclamations about my character and failings, their circular arguments that get louder and more tangled and mar my speech and thoughts while others around me have simply no idea how much I am preyed upon.

I’ve spent the last better part of a year ruminating on a particular encounter and unsatisfying and distressing conclusion with an acquaintance-friend. I have not given myself license to write about this freely here for fear of causing someone else pain or risking a reader taking my very vulnerable thoughts and using them against me with gossip and speculation. It is not that I assume the worst about people, it is that when I write or speak vulnerable words I do not wish to be re-traumatized by those who receive them. These are the very, very brief times I wish I had a private journal – the times I cannot synthesize my painful thoughts and speak in ways I that feel safe enough.

Yet the interaction is like a sore tooth, prodded, acutely painful, even months later. Before the final sundering took place I’d created a gift for this person. For months after dissolution I carried the gift and willed myself to send it – I believed like Thich Nhat Hanh instructs that when one is angry, one should give a (non-creepy or passive-aggressive) gift to this person, and the anger will dissolve and forgiveness ensue (this has worked for my relationships in the past), but I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I simply could not. I realized after a time I wasn’t Angry; I was (and am) Hurt.

I am hurt because at the close of our arrangement this person was a complete bully, yelling over my attempts to restore balance and discussion, bringing forth wrongs I’d committed that I’d had no concept were being experienced as such. Many of these sins brought against me were both unfair and inaccurate and at the end of this conversation the person admitted this (although did not offer apology nor attempt amends), but the words rang in my ears and are still rattling around all this time later. During our acquaintanceship this person had conducted themselves with a quiet uncomfortable evasion when I’d tried with every fiber of my being to be clear; in fact the exact misunderstanding I hoped to avoid is exactly what exploded forth in the end. This haunts me. I am not scared of bullies as a rule but when the person chooses to abuse me over the very thing I was scared might happen, my strength leaves my body and I have nothing, I am completely cowed and hurt and Done. They have Won in every sense of the word.

I know someone who must resort to bullying is a fearful person; either entirely damaged (as I do not believe in this case) or simply adhering to needs of Control and little depth of compassion. I know this. But it does not make me feel better.

Smaller and more exacting nonfulfillment on my part stares at me apace, even today while my hands busily handle my duties in false confidence.  I spent much of my Friday making foodstuffs for company (and many for storage, as we have quite the farm bounty) and in the end analysis I feel I first of all did not impress anyone unduly with my cuisine, and secondly although in my mind I realize my efforts to cook for family and friends and prepare good, whole food, these are wonderful exploits, I cannot stop the cynical voice in my ear saying I’m a silly person, a self-demeaned woman for standing at the sink and scrubbing and peeling and slicing and then sautéing and mixing and straining and gently stirring and setting aside and doing the little math in my head about feeding Ralph this or that or the children or family or company this exact thing I think they’ll love. And even though I know I feed not only my family but others, and so often (not always) my food is experienced as delicious and healing and restorative and nourishing, there’s this terrible voice telling me what I do is Nothing, it is Drudgery, it is unpaid and unmerited and not cared for. This voice makes little sense to me from a logical perspective but it has been powerful these last eight years I’ve been home doing the Work I do.

And this morning I’ve spent quite some time feeling terrible because I was requisitioned to do a sewing project and I failed. I did my best and worked hard and thought I’d done well but it turns out I’d done a few things wrong. While I tell myself Anyone Can Make Mistakes it would seem my mistakes are so much worse than others, the pain I cause others seems so much larger than I would ordinarily assume, I begin to wish I had not Tried at all, had not said Yes I Can Do This For You, had not tried something that wasn’t a guaranteed success, and I am reminded of how little my skills really are, in every way, and anything I’ve done before I was proud of recedes into a pathetically small pile, it is actually not real but rather Wishful Thinking, and every compliment others have delivered were only false platitudes, and I was a fool to enjoy them.

My previous experience of relatively rugged self-esteem was rather an attempt on my part to think I’m someone I’m Not.

I sat down to write this precisely after cooking breakfast for my daughter and before writing an overdue email to a friend. The breakfast preparations were necessary because no, not ONE MORE thing could I do incorrectly, I could do one thing right, if I was struck dead on the way back to my bedroom I would at least have fed my daughter.

The breakfast and the email are not much. But they are things I want to do, things I can do.

That will, in the end analysis, have to be good enough. Because it’s all there is.

una otra gata por mas loco en casa

We Hogabooms have, shall we say, less than self-serving instincts.  Like the fact I am trying to convince my husband to buy this kind of dive-y (yet very affordable) house a block or so away.  Can we shift our life to include (the albatross of) a house that needs constant maintenance and work?  Do we want the responsibility of repair and the commitment to this geographic locale?  I’m not really sure. Yet the house we currently live in is as bland as a hotel in its wall treatments and bathroom and kitchen furnishings (two rooms I seem to care much about), and I’m bored of cleaning without being able to paint or commission from my mother a large, sci-fi octopus-inspired mural for the walls.  Right, I want to live in a place half-torn up with walls that need sheet rock and constant repairs that jockey for clothes for the kids or a vacation maybe once every five years.  This is how I grew up and how I grew up is one of the reasons I want to live a little differently.  And yet, We Shall See.

Secondly, my husband is currently in the midst of adopting a stray kitty, a little black number with long hair and a curious yet cautious demeanor (we’re calling her Snoop based on her proclivities for curious examination).  He “accidentally” fed her from our back porch and he casually has been leaving the back door open for her to come in and look about.  She (I’m not even sure she’s a female, but she seems to be one) looks about and ducks and makes these adorable sounds.  She reminds me of my little Blackstone, not three months gone, because she is black with white (secret!) bellypatch, and she is timid and lovely.  As I type this she ducks through my house making tiny interrogation-meows.  I suppose the next step is to put up some neighborhood flyers and a “Found” classified in the paper to make sure she’s not really someone else’s cat who is researching a perhaps sweeter deal.

Tonight my children were scheduled to stay over at my mother’s house.  Today our son beat the game “Plants vs. Zombies” and has been the manifestation of sheer joy over this accomplishment; yet his festive mood did not extend to staying away from the home.  Fifteen minutes ago he called and requested transport back to his own (our own) bed. I am glad for his company, for his husky voice and the way his hair smells and busying my morning while he sleeps in the bed, which is as Right as anything else feels.

Oh and if you read this, PLEASE GIVE MY HUSBAND a good deal of teasing over the cat thing. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.