I get asked often how long I’ve been sewing. The truth is I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to sew. I think I’m only a modestly-skilled stitcher, really, considering I’ve been exposed my whole life. Some of my earliest memories of focussed work are of pinning cloth and sitting on the floor cutting with a pair of orange-handled Fiskers; of crinkled tissue cut down to size and marking notches by painfully cutting small triangles. In fact in learning something as a young child the methods my mother used were the ones I thought were The Only Way To Do It. As a grownup I’ve learned my own methods and taught my mother not a few. For instance in contrast I iron all my patterns (shout-out Amore!) and never ¡EVAR! cut them; I dispatch yardage from a table and with rapier-like acuity using a rotary wheel and mat, and I mark notches by a chalk line or tailor’s tacks.

Rollin' On My 201-2

My mom sewed a bit more as a young woman, before she had a family and career. She didn’t sew all that much while I was growing up but what is most important is – I remember she loved it. She seemed to enjoy the feeling of competence in her craft and she definitely enjoyed the design process (such as it is when you’re sewing out-of-envelope). I often think the familial example of someone who does Work and loves it is the most likely avenue for subsequent generations to take it up. This is why I’ve never much bothered to try to get my kids to sew. My guess is they will end up doing it because it’s in their blood. They know so much about it already, without even knowing they know! (They also think everyone knows how to make clothes… they don’t realize how rare this is.)

Three years ago my mother brought me my grandmother’s sewing machine – a Singer Centennial 15-91 made in 1950, both popular and utilitarian. The very machine was manufactured and shipped from the same location, only days apart, from the one a friend gave me about eight years ago when she moved from PT (mine is a Centennial 201-2, another great machine). As a Mother’s Day gift in 2009 I got grandma’s machine tuned up and re-gifted it to my mother – who hasn’t yet used it.

If I had the room I’d have kept it myself. I currently own two working sewing machines. I’d love more and to have them set up – it really is helpful, especially given how quickly I construct things – but I lack the space. I sometimes fervently wish for a room to spread out and outfit myself further with a set up serger and a cutting table and, jeebus, SHELVES would be nice! Realistically this won’t happen for some time; we aren’t likely to have a larger house anytime soon. My husband has offered to rent me a studio space in downtown Hoquiam because he is a Really Fucking Awesome Guy. But even the incredibly-cheap prices of downtown HQX aren’t in our spending plan; neither much are shelves or more accoutrement to fill such a space.

But if I could, I would snap up that opportunity toot sweet.

My clothes generally last so much longer than what people buy. My kids’ closet is bursting with garments I’ve sewn. When they grow out of the pieces (which is relatively quickly!) the clothes go off donated or gifted… I am rather shy about giving off my sewn clothes because I’m unsure of what people like and want (and I hate to mail stuff. A lot. So locals are easiest for me to gift to). A surprising number of garments end up going to the Salvation Army. Whatever their future destinations, I hope they are as well-worn and well-loved as they are when in my home.

Currently I’m only a few minutes away from finishing a couple wool coats, which I’ll post soon. Tonight I’m on another pair of Monster Booties, much requested by readers here and there. I have to put a pause on Yes to favors and outside-of-the-family work; Christmas approaches and one of my chief pleasures is sewing for those I love.

Wool Underlined With Cotton

Wool, wool, wonderful wool! How I wish I had yards and yards and yards…

French Seam

French seams on the inside of a coat – underlining exposed.

In other news, we have my mom’s (incredibly submissive, aged) terrier Tuck here for a few days while she cat- and house-sits in Portland. My mom brought this huge dog bed as well. Last night, his first night, Tuck curled up on the bed and a second later alpha-kitten Hamilton walked over and put her paw on his face. He immediately self-telescoped using his own butthole and slunk off; three of the cats took the bed in a neat feline coup. Ralph and I trained the cats off the bed (this was very easy and involved putting them outside in the snow every single time they so much as stuck a claw towards it) but I had to snap a picture for my mom.

They STOLE It From Us, The Precious!

While I did this the fourth kitty Mable watched and decided if she wanted in on the Hot! Sleeping! Action!:

She voted “No”, on the account of she would have had to move her body, which resembles the form and function of a Guild Navigator, about eighteen inches. Much easier to stay on the goddamned chair.


I forgot to mention, I’m having a rough day today.  I guess I’ve been having a few of these lately (it feels like a mild depression) and I worry writing about it makes it some big Thing that will be Boring to everyone, but then again I have to be honest for my own sake. Today very little reached my belly and made me laugh and I am ashamed to say I did not eat food except once today although I knew I should eat more and eat better for my health. I don’t need anyone to weigh in on this as the guilt (internally-supplied) is extremely unhelpful.

But there were a few episodes I wanted to write down because they were genuinely Good.

This afternoon my mother came over and picked up Phoenix to take her to the bank and cash her check from the painting she (Phoenix) sold. When they came back they’d brought me the most amazing array of fresh gladiolus. These are sitting on our little table and giving our living room a life of its own. My mom and I shared some tea and had a wonderful talk about a homebirth article I’d read that morning. She also thanked me for the chocolate and hardtack I’d brought her and my grandfather. When she drove home a little later she found, upon arriving at her house, my kitty Mable had snuck a ride. So Mable got to hang out at my mom’s for a few hours until she brought the little creature back. This made all of us smile. Cats are like children for me, a real blessing as even in a day with the doldrums they can give me cheer. I take comfort in caring for them and knowing at least I can do that much.

This afternoon Phoenix went ahead to the soccer field and attendant playground to roughhouse. I took Nels out for a lunch. Nels was overly-hungry (by his admission) and he was very sad as we were getting ready. I felt dizzy and horrid but I was gentle to the children, a kind of survival-level daze which is always accompanied by my deep respect and awareness at those who are chronically or more devastatingly ill and still have dependents to care for. I was counting down the moments until I’d have food for my Boy and he’d feel better.

As soon as we parted ways – my daughter on her bike off on her own adventure, my son behind me on the bike – Nels became very loving and clingy and pet me and told me in so many expressive ways how much he loved me. Our tenderness and closeness lasted through the next hour and a half until it was he playing on the playground and I sat with my husband and mother and watched soccer practice.

The one thing that made me laugh out loud and spontaneously today: when Nels and I arrived on the playground Phoenix was deep in play with two girls. The younger of the two aparently announced, “That boy in the red shirt with the long blonde hair? He’s hot.” Phoenix related this to me and we laughed. Nels didn’t understand what “hot” meant; when Phoenix and I told him the girl meant attractive he got a very knowing look and laughed. Just a precursor, some precocious and misplaced adult behavior on the part of the girl (I mean “hot”, really?) but still, as others may relate to, children grow up so fast and sooner than I’m really ready my children really will have little paramours.

mealtime manners

Late evenings we’ve been watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe on Netflix Instant. I’m probably the last person, ever, to discover this show but if you don’t know it, I can vouch that it’s fabulous. It’s a simple enough premise: a television personality going around the country (and occasionally abroad) performing one day of the kind of work most people don’t know about and won’t be clamoring to try after they see it. The show is interesting, it’s funny, and I love that it shows the underpinnings of our society (another great reason to watch with kids) – and okay okay, my husband is right, I have a teensy crush on the host, probably mostly because I like to watch guys work and get all messed up (and yeah, Ralph… network server stuff isn’t quite dirty enough).

So last night we were watching the episode Alligator Egg Collector – rather self-explanatory, really. As we watched Rowe push apart a nest to retrieve the leathery treasure therein my daughter commented, “That nest is farther from the water – those are probably mostly male eggs.” I sat there in stunned silence with my second glass of wine in hand. My kids are always telling me things I didn’t know previous and I can tell exactly by their tone of voice when they’re telling me a fact. I usually kind of shrink a bit and feel my Limitations and timidly ask them in what way now they’ve now advanced beyond me (I don’t use those exact words of course).  So I ask my daughter now, “What? What do you mean?” Patiently, she explains that the temperature of alligator nests determine the sex of the babies – if the nest temperature is under 85 F the clutch will be all-female and if over 93 F the eggs will be male. “Nests farther away from the water are warmer, so all the babies are male.” she says calmly. I ask her to get me the book where she learned this and she obliges, sliding out of bed and padding into the living room to retrieve it, flipping the encyclopedia open and pointing. Her eyes are predator-stripes, her body sleek and alive and All Is Right in the world.

Today the kids slept until almost 1 PM at which point they called me in the bedroom to play a trivia game; answers I got right required a kiss to Nels, answers I got wrong I was forced to kiss my daughter. We all liked this game Times One Hundred.

The children’s sleeping-in gave me plenty of time to cook, clean, and sew a bit before they rose and we went on our bike errands.  I’m on Day 3 of arranging a large tray of comestibles for the kids. They love this and so do I. They are flush with compliments for my food and my general personhood; they sample nearly everything that’s put out, lazily thumbing through a book and cracking open edamame shells, stacking fruit on small plates, pouring tea.  Between the four of us the tray’s fare is devoured with maybe one slice of peach going out to the chickens by day’s end. We are definitely eating more of a variety of foods, especially simple fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tonight dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, the sauce of which was started yesterday and simmered down to the Most Delicious Thing Ever. Ralph made the meatballs, a bit larger than usual, dropping them in the simmering sauce while I stitched away in the sewing room.  We sat down at 7:30, a kale and carrot salad from our local CSA rounded out the meal along with the few snap peas (also from the CSA) from today’s tray. Dining as a foursome, I’m eating and I can’t believe how good the food is. I ask my husband, “Is this what my spaghetti always tastes like?” He says Yes. I say, “This is the best spaghetti & meatballs I’ve had in my life.” (I seriously invite any of you all to come weigh in on this). Phoenix immediately pipes up: “I agree!” Nels takes a bite of the salad and says it’s “delicious and sour.” Phoenix kindly tells us lettuce makes her barf. Ralph explains it’s not lettuce it’s kale, and I mention it’s high in calcium (she’s been interested in what foods are good for dental health). Phoenix says, “That’s great, but it still makes me want to barf,” and goes on in an avid description of exactly the kind of gagging that results from trying to eat such a thing. Ralph gently asks her if she wouldn’t mind not talking about puke at the table. I’m trying not to laugh.  I hated lettuce and greens at her age too; I’m still rather picky about them.

My mother comes over after dinner to pick Nels up; she and the kids have been working on putting together pieces for this year’s Young Artist Showcase at the Harbor Art Guild gallery. While they’re gone Phoenix plays games on the computer and I sew on my current Fabulousness for Nels.

As soon as I’m settled in the sewing room, every time without fail, ALL FOUR CATS dart in. Mable lays at my feet, pornographically delighted to have me touching her; Harris lays on his side for a few minutes before rising and sitting up at the door silently, his handsome nose a dignified arrow, “Let me out, please.” And the two kittens.  They climb my fabric and try to tear things up to shit. Today I chucked a book at Hamilton (not hitting her, just trying to startle) to get her off a noisy activity and she lightning-fast spun towards me, her “arms” up in an alarmed ‘Y” and her mouth popped open with a fishy smack – a comical expression of dismay and surprise. I laughed loudly and she scrambled away, her body – only miliseconds before engaged in aggresive horseplay – crumpled up like a concertina of Shame.

stitch by stitch

Yesterday at Homeschool Sports a new mama took me in to talk to. I am gradually getting to know these parents one at a time. I’m in no hurry as I’m not particularly needy for friends right now. Anyway, I’d noticed this woman before but she always seemed engrossed in conversation with other mothers.  In case you’re not a lady, I might point out that in social scenarios it’s easy to get one’s feelings hurt if you aren’t embraced into the fold – to wonder if people are clique-ing and clustering up and eschewing you.  Day two of sitting on the bleachers with everyone else talking and you away alone and you start to think they all hate you, or judge you, or are happier and more well-adjusted than you, or bitchier and narrow-minded, or whatever.

And it’s almost always just not true. Case in point: I’m the only non-Christian lifestyle parent at this function – as far as I know – and definitely the only woman with tacky hair and the proclivity to say words like “cock” (often).  More relevant or close to my heart (okay, “cock” is pretty close to my heart, but still) I believe (could be wrong) I’m also the only matriarch shrugging at “traditional” homeschooling whilst fully embracing self-directed learning. And don’t get me wrong, at times these can feel like huge differences.  I could choose to feel like an outcast or all Special Snowflake or Different.  But that’s not my style.  I know I’m not any more special than these ladies; they may church-talk like no one’s business and wear classy yet understated fashion but they are not the Borg and I am not all misunderstood and awesomely weird and “So-Called Life” Different. We’re all mothers, women, people and the only way we can know what we have in common (more than we might like to admit) is to talk to one another.

I think I asked this woman A. a question – I can’t remember what question exactly – but I’m glad I did because she was one of those people with a lot of experiences and opinions – on a variety of subjects.  In fact A. talked so much and jumped from subject to subject so rapidly as to make me look positively inarticulate and wallflower-y. Within a few sentences she asked me if I was a Christian. I can’t remember exactly what I said (I should have bellowed out, “Ma’am I am tonight!”) but within the next few minutes she, a Biblical fundamentalist, was talking about the difference between her and other Biblical fundamentalist who are too fundamentalisty, more Bible-exacting (long skirts, long hair worn up, no mainstream music) and too… something.  I felt a little jet-lag as I was thrust into the conversation of fringe Christian, which although disconcerting at times interestingly enough has a lot in common with my own views (namely, a fierce defense of family and the position that our children are not primarily the State’s children).  A. was mother to seven children, the oldest being 20 and the youngest looking about 2.  She was a veteran homeschooler and a passionate person.  I like passionate people.  I was glad to talk with her.  The little homeschooling group has been a much-looked-forward-to date during my week.

I’ve been more or less sucessfully hand-sewing.  It’s different than machine sewing; mostly in that I can sit in the living room instead of in my sewing studio. During the day my work seems to calm the children.  They like having me there.  My latest project was an armchair pincushion, mad practical:

Alabama Chanin Pincushion

Alabama Chanin Pincushion, Close-Up

The entire time I was trying to take a picture of the above, the Love-Cat kept getting in the way. Wanting Love. More Love. There is never enough Love for her. Unless there’s Food. Then she wants that more. When she’s done with that? Back to Love.


This video is RIDICULOUS because it sums up a little too much our life. All off-script, including Mable’s screech and my pathetic succumbing to Harris’ begging-for-food charms.

Anna Dell Geckaboom, with my daughter, who is not only an experienced and loving lizard-custodian and would-be herpetologist, but is also getting pretty good at handling crickets as well.

Our Newest Member Of The Household

of a morning

Last night Sophie and I stayed up so very late talking. And about a half hour after her brother had fallen asleep next to her, he reached over and with the softest, softest hands he pulled himself to her. She shrugged her shoulder away and giggled a bit at his somnolent embrace. His hand gently reached out again, seeking beyond her to touch me. For a few minutes of the nicest possible dance my boy moved close to my girl and put his hand out to us both and so clearly sought us in his sleep.

I wish my husband would come take a picture of us in the morning. By “us”, I mean those who don’t get up as early as he, the remaining three Hogabooms who share the king-sized mattress in the master bedroom (our modest little rental doesn’t really have a “master” anything, but by this phrase I mean, technically, the room with the parents’ bed, not the kids’ bed). Actually, while I’m at it, maybe part of my point is there isn’t a master bedroom, because most every single night the kids sleep with us or halfway through the night come from the couch or the bunkbed and crawl right in with us. I can’t remember the last time I woke in a bed alone.

Speaking of which – back when my kids were babies I wish I’d have not wasted time and effort and thought on the whole, Is it okay to sleep with your kids debate. No really, there is an actual debate about this stuff, at least in the middle upper class obsessive parenting bullshit circles I’ve found myself in, and no I won’t link to countless examples of the intricacies of this worthless conversation but suffice to say: it exists, and many very good people are caught up in needless worry and self-judgment on all sides of the arguments. The main gist of so many proponents of de rigeur nighttime separation seems to be that there are “boundaries” in life and your kids need to learn to respect these, and if they don’t sleep alone at a certain (very young: in terms of months) age then they won’t grow to be independent.* Which is so completely, completely ridiculous, inasmuch that one aspect of familial habit could so hugely influence something as complex as a child’s independence. But I won’t go into that whole “making your kid independent” thing that so many parents, sadly, believe is their weighted and mighty task. I will merely say I have loved, loved sharing sleep time with all the members of the family – it is seriously years and years (so far) of wonderful, tender memories for me (the only exception to family-sleeping bliss: the cat(s) when they are exceptionally farty, Mable, everyone’s looking at you!).

So what I wanted to say originally: in the morning by the time I’m about to wake up (often around nine AM) I am at the east side of the bed and the kids are smashed, absolutely smashed, against me. In sleep they have chased me across the berth for my warmth, or the comfort of their mother (because I’m the cloth-wrapped one, not the wire one), or whatever it is they seek. Often Nels has pulled some sneaky-ass move where he’s shoehorned himself in between myself and whoever is next to me – Ralph, Sophie – and is occupying that space whether the other party has shoved over or no. Since we have a rather large bed the kids’ nocturnal gravitation towards me means that to the left of the terminal child there is a good six feet or so of empty bed. Which a cat (or two) has often decided to take advantage of.

Each weekday morning after Ralph has left for work I escape this embrace and slip out of bed. I love getting my coffee, taking a shower, washing the dishes, starting some food (today: chocolate fudge cookies, a homemade cream of tomato soup with fresh tomatoes, tuna fish sandwiches), knitting or reading a bit, then looking in on my sleeping children. They are truly lovely, and peaceful and having those few moments to see them safe and cared for is like a deep draught of a lovely drug. Watching them sleep and thinking of how wonderful and free and amazing their lives are, or at least have been to this point, and in those moments I feel incredibly fulfilled.

* Fairness compels me to add: I have heard many claim that parents who choose not to sleep with their young child(ren) are committing an injury tantamount to a profound abandonment; as if a child cannot suffer some sorrow and loneliness (indeed, as humans it is our lot to have an awful big portion of both at times), or perhaps as if parenthood is some sort of massive undertaking where every damn decision counts so very much for your child’s sense of self-worth – and you’d better make the right one or risk their entire future!

my advice: do it on a sunny day

I started Moving Day by getting up at 9 AM groggy and sitting on the couch and thanking Ralph after he brought a cup of coffee and thinking I was not in good shape to uproot and migrate.  At 9:05 my husband leaned back in the chair next to mine and lovingly reminded me:  “Nels has a doctor’s appointment at nine thirty.”  Here’s a man who’s about to single-handedly – well, nearly so, we only “hired on” one friend to move today – pick up every single material possession we own and transport it to our new domain and have a life in boxes for a few days.  And he, my husband, is smiling and looking forward to all this.

So my son – who sleeps in until 11 AM some days – had to be dragged out of bed and dressed and taken out in the Icy. Freaking. Cold to the Mercedes (Ralph not only warmed up the car but made a bowl of polenta for The Boy) and driven to the doctor where we’re behind on six shots and Nels elected to have four of them and chose to have them in his legs (which is fortunate, because I think that’s where the nurse insists on doing them). And Nels was so brave and awesome and as I cuddled him just before he was repeatedly stabbed he said, “I’m not going to wiggle or kick, but I’m going to yell.” *  And he did.  And then we were done, and we got lunch together.

Moving went well; Ralph, Sophie, and our friend Michael had everything moved by about 5 PM, which I think is pretty incredible considering you know, we’re an American family of four. In this, our fourth move since having the kids, we have been shrinking in our possessions rather than growing them.  I’m proud of this fact but also puzzled by and a little anxious with each bit of this or that we decide to do without: because what are we, if not our stuff?  Now, dear reader, don’t get the wrong idea: know that we have plenty – plenty – of “stuff” and won’t be able to claim the ascetic satisfaction of knapsack living any time soon.

The cats were the last acquisition tonight (the chickens come tomorrow); the three of them crammed into two carriers – old, skinny and submissively-aggressive Blackstone in her own carrier, and fat, torpid bosom-buddies Harris and Mable crammed humorously in the other.  The cats were very, very alarmed at first upon being delivered to the new home but after a bit of sniffing around and exploring and smelling our Stuff in the house seemed to settle just fine. Mabel now sits at my shoulder as I lean against our bed (our bed!  our bed!  King-sized!  Down comforter!  Smelling of our homemade Fels Naptha laundry soap!  Heaven!) and steal a few minutes on stolen Wi-Fi from the neighborhood.

* He was determined not to jerk or writhe during his shots as he remembered, with a self-inflicted sense of responsibility, that fourteen months ago for his last shots he knocked a nurse across the room when he physically reacted to the needle stabs.

freaks & squeaks

Our friend has a new camera with a high definition video function; she’s been doing a few short films including some of my family.  Here she graces you with a glimpse into our Halloween, sitting on my mom’s porch and handing out candy*:

This one was taken by our own teeny little camera, and the subject speaks for itself, literally:

* What say thee on the feminist front?  Are Westernized women’s problems over – do we live in an egalitarian, just society that treats them with respect, as my mother’s boyfriend argues here?