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14 Dec

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


A certain newborn may be faulted for our procurement of a 2009 holiday tree at what some might call the last possible second — Christmas Eve — but in actuality I think we could’ve managed a trip to the tree lot if there’d been some kind of pre-set plan. A presumed time with corresponding stop at cute cafe and a swing by the most festive neighborhood lights display before heading home to drink cocoa in our matching Hanna Andersson jammies. Also, you know, two-thirds of us are Jewish, so this may not have been a realistic scenario. But you get the idea.

Since George has been alive, I’ve put my holiday planning into overdrive which, to me, is really intense but, to you, might look significantly…um, less so. Not impressed by that L’Shana Tovah banner I hung in the front window for Rosh Hashanah, eh? Well, I tried.

This year, we’ve persevered despite having a two week-old sapping our energy as one of our thirtieth birthdays passed by and realizing the night before Thanksgiving that we may not have money to buy the makings for the standard Macy’s Parade-watching quiche (we scraped it together). But, do I want George to be a part of a make-it-work-with-a-little-felt-and-a-WIC-check kind of family? Little by little, we’re getting it in gear and I’m pleased to report that Hanukkah has been our best showing yet. Homemade food, homemade gifts, thoughtfulness in the place/face of blatant consumerism and as much family time as we could muster with a papa who works two jobs. That said, our biggest, most tradition-y effort still lies ahead.

I’ve talked a little bit about George’s naming ceremony, or brit shalom, in the past, but it, like his first birthday, always seemed a loooooong ways off. We chose a name to honor a very special lady, picked a date for the party and made the invitations, and even THEN its imminence didn’t sink in. We’re now at T minus about two weeks, and I am staring down the barrel of the first culturally significant milestone of my baby’s life. An event steeped in tradition. And meaning. And I’m a floppy felt banner in the window sort of mom.

This was all giving me a serious case of the worries until one of our dear friends said something that I know resonated with, well… everyone in the room at the time, because it applied to all of us in different ways. Your children won’t remember that you’re poor; they’ll remember that you loved them. Will George look back on photos of his naming ceremony and birthday party and think, “Wow! What a tiny, crappy house! And you couldn’t spring for a real mohel?”? Or will he see all the friends and family? Will he see the homemade food and decorations for the loving contributions they were? I needed to check myself and stop reading so many design blogs.

The facts are these: We aren’t wealthy. We aren’t organized. We aren’t a traditional family. But we’re creative, and as I assembled and addressed the invitations to George’s naming ceremony and birthday party this evening, I took heart in that. Because some years, we might not get a tree until Christmas Eve. We might have fettuccine alfredo for Thanksgiving dinner and make Purim costumes out of the Goodwill bag. But I’d bet money that in the pictures, we’ll be smiling. And that’s a tradition I can get behind.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


put on your yarmulke

1 Dec

This was the first night of Hanukkah last year:

I was about to burst, we kind of half-assed it. My celebratory glass of wine put me right to sleep.

This year, we were (almost) totally ready at sunset. Presents wrapped, food cooking, baby’s new mama-made kippah loosely attached to whatever wispy hairs we could snag.

George helped to light the candles. He ate some of the challah we ran all over town to find this afternoon.
Mama got a new calendar; Papa got a new coat.

We learned that one of us doesn’t like couscous

But really likes paper bags.

This Hanukkah, when we celebrate miracles, I am most thankful that this — my commonplace — feels so miraculous.

thumbs up for hanukkah

Happy Holidays.

radical motherhood

4 Nov

The term radical motherhood seems like such a laughable dichotomy. What could be less radical than the act of bearing and raising children? It’s fundamental, necessary, so commonplace that it’s completely taken for granted that most women will do it. Just typing the two words together brings to mind the time I gave a little workshop in radical homemaking for Ladyfest Bellingham, when a very earnest-looking young woman asked skeptically, after I’d given directions for making your own cleaning products and growing your own food and using some home remedies, “…but what makes this radical?” It was a good question, and I didn’t take offense. We’ve all grown up with the idea that homemaking — the choice to (at least temporarily) forego a paid career — is to squander the advances we’ve made, allowing the small part of the glass ceiling over your own head to grow closed. To say that you are most valuable in the most traditionally female role is equatable with failure, so it seems, to many (if not most) young Feminists. My answer, which I know was rambly, amounted to: I’m not taking part in the traditional consumerism, the laissez-faire approach to childbirth and rearing or the stereotypical household realpolitik. She didn’t seem convinced.

I don’t usually let this kind of skepticism or even the occasional blatant dismissal bother me. I hesitate to put this sort of spin on it, but I’ve been their age and I’ve also been (and remain) a zealot and absolutist about a few things. One mindset I can decreasingly abide, though: the having-babies-is-gross-and-stupid one. It is reaching totally epic plague-like proportions. And it is pissing me off.

In my experience, it started with comments like, “your baby is really cute. But procreating is environmentally irresponsible.” Or “I would never have kids but I plan to adopt older ones, like teenagers.” And “don’t you worry about bringing another person into the world?” All of those, and more, have been said to or asked of me by people I consider friends. Those are (kind of naïve) lead-ins to conversations I’m not interested in having, though I can appreciate that others want or need to have them; the merit of my child’s presence in the world is one thing I don’t care to debate. If you want to hook me, though, you can bring my devotion to Feminism into question. You can snark on other women for wanting to have or having children. Those are the conversations I just can’t pass up.

A self-imposed rule I routinely break is don’t read the comments. Truly, it’s advice to be heeded, but curiosity or morbidity or optimism maybe gets the best of me and I can’t help it. A blog post pops up on my RSS feed about the “controversy” of public breastfeeding and I want all of the comments to be supportive. To agree with me. And more often than not, if the blog isn’t a straightforward crunchy mom-blog, I’m sorely disappointed. Case in point: I won’t even link to it because I don’t want them to reap a single page view from my mention, but a popular Feminist blog recently ran a story on Lily Allen’s second miscarriage which is technically, I believe, late enough in the game to officially be a stillbirth. Any woman — forget that, any decent person — ‘s heart should positively ache for her. Instead, I read comments that blamed her for publicly discussing her personal life, for “putting all her eggs in one basket” when she had stated that she planned to take some time off from music, for even wanting to have children in the first place when she “should” be using her celebrity to advocate for adoption. I was astounded by the sheer heartlessness of these women whose fake names I’ve seen in many, many other comment threads on this particular website. They’re not trolls, they’re just…jerks. Jerks with an apparently common distaste for biological motherhood who see fit to spout nastiness on a website supposedly devoted to Feminist causes, and who do so unchecked.

In my own personal life, I’ve been treated as quaint or lazy, but the most frustrating is when I’m treated as an unwitting tool of the patriarchy. A few brave souls have taken it upon themselves to explain that I’m not living up to my potential or claim that I’m serving as a bad example for my son who will undoubtedly grow up to exploit and demean women at worst, or at best assume they’ll cater to his every whim. These people clearly know nothing of my housekeeping habits or cooking skills. These are women in their early twenties. Childless. Some go to school. Some are even unemployed. But all of them have considered themselves sage enough to dispense advice that boiled down to: DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE.

To those women, and to the women I’ll never meet who anonymously comment that they don’t want to see me feed my child in public because it’s base, that by not “contributing” I’m reversing the work my foremothers did, that I’m wrecking the environment, that I’m insipid and cliché:
You were once a child. Had someone taken the time to teach you manners, history, reverence, gardening, happy songs and good books, nurtured you into a tolerant and understanding person who is able to relate intellectually and socially to people who make choices that you, yourselves, may someday make (or may not; tolerance shouldn’t rely on commonality), we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I can tell you this: my son won’t need a degree in gender studies. He won’t need to buy zines about slow foods and herbal remedies. He won’t turn to an insular clique to find community because he will have been raised by radical people with a radical community of their own. My time IS spent wisely, doing valuable work that benefits my world, and, for that matter, yours. It’s unfortunate that you can’t see the value of a good mother (as, equally unfortunately, the results of good mothering are, by nature, less in-your-face and remarkable than the results of bad mothering). I wish my current chosen occupation came with the same hipster quotient as, say… the person that fixes your bicycle. But we’ll just keep on keepin’ on, being radically, uncoolly domestic. And, in the future, you can even reap the benefits; I won’t be stingy.

jam on it

19 Oct

We’re lucky enough to live in a house where, in the far back of the property, blackberry bushes grow undeterred all Summer long. Some might not call this luck. In fact, some might gripe about how they have to get a new weedeater to combat the attempted take-over of the garden and back fence. The same person(s) might be eating some words…and some jam, right about now.

I used a combination of the directions found inside the pectin package and those found here.

I got the no sugar needed type of pectin and sweetened the jam with some really nice raw honey that my mom gave us. It is outrageous. Perfectly sweet and honey-tasty but still a little tart.

George hung out (pun intended, har har) in the sling while I cooked and canned and Nathan photodocumented. He was unimpressed.

We shared a slice of toast with some butter and the last bit of jam left in the pot after I’d filled the jars. This Fall and Winter it will be so good on our oatmeal and kasha (and bread, and by the spoonful).

I didn’t bother with the canning-specific pot you’re “supposed” to have and just used our giant stockpot which seems to have worked; my lid buttons are sucked in and the stuff has set. A tip I read, though, which was heartening when I decided to try jam-making: if it doesn’t set or your lid buttons don’t pop down, you can re-make the same batch or just put the jam in the fridge or freezer and it’ll keep.

The breakdown:
4 cups of berries (harvested throughout the Summer and frozen) = free
1 cup of honey = gift from mom
1/4 cup of sugar = we’ll say .50, just to be generous. It’s organic, but that’s still probably an overestimate.
1 package of no sugar needed pectin = 2.39
mason jars and lids = already had
jam funnel thing = .99
TOTAL = 3.88. For three jars! Awesome! Is my math right? Who cares.

This was way easier than I thought it would be and only took a little over an hour from start to finish. I also got exactly the flavor I wanted and know exactly from where all my ingredients came. I’m stoked to take on my next canning project: green tomato, ginger and vanilla jam. I know, it sounds gross.

those who can’t teach

14 Sep

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We’re all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


If we lived in another part of the country, one of my friends recently pointed out, we’d be vying for a spot in a choice preschool right now. In fact, for certain preschools, we’d have already been accepted or denied based on an assessment of our at-home routines, plans for the future both near and distant and “philosophies.” The thought of putting on my best button-up blouse and smug half smile to sit opposite some douche in an Aeron chair and justify my parenting style in order to be granted the opportunity to write a check for thousands of dollars — ugh. It makes me shudder so hard you might mistake my disgust for a sort of rhythmless shimmy.

Luckily, we don’t live in New York or LA or any other place so cutthroat as to pit infants against each other. There’s an abundance of small preschools, co-op schools, Montessori and Waldorf schools and preschools of the arts in Bellingham, and many of them are steps from our front door. On our walks, George and I like to stop at the schools’ fences to watch kids play for a few moments before we move on to chase a neighborhood cat or admire someone’s garden. It’s undeniable that George likes people, likes to engage socially a lot more than I do and I can’t see this changing before it’s time to start thinking about school. And yet.

My main criticism of homeschooling involves humility. It takes someone with a high opinion of her (or him)self to homeschool. You have to be so confident in your ability to provide all the knowledge your child needs that you forsake other in-person input. Of course, there’s reference. There’s the library and the internet and “field trips.” But you, as a parent, are the keystone…and all the other stones, and like 3/5 of the gargoyles on top of the building. Your bias becomes theirs, for better or worse, by design or otherwise. And knowing all this, feeling the way I do… I would still consider homeschooling George for the first couple of years at least.

See, Bellingham is a liberal town for sure. Everyone recycles. Everyone rides their bike and shops at the co-op and wants or has chickens and loves composting with a passion they used to reserve for Death Cab circa ’06 or Obama, for those two months in 2008 when they cared about politics. But! These are tricksy hippies who fool you with their homebrew and yearly contribution to Planned Parenthood; they are just yuppies in disguise. Yuppies who don’t love Emma Goldman. Who don’t daydream about Summerhill. Who don’t appear on the no-fly list for their involvement with the ALF (um… I mean… not that I know anyone who fits that description).
There’s an odd sort of dichotomy at play with these folks and their kids. They advocate for educational freedom, as long as that freedom includes really extensive knowledge of OPEC. They support the arts, but “the arts” are kind of bad acrylic paintings they purchased to justify the “buy art not cocaine” sticker on their Subaru. They call their Subaru a suby. CUTE! There’s no place that I’ve heard of or seen, yet, in town, that offers real democratic schooling or even some version of AS Neill’s model but is also academically rigorous. Why does educational freedom have to equal linen pants and lessons in blackberry picking, you guys?!

This, for me, is the crux of the issue. I want my son to enjoy learning, but I want him to learn valuable lessons. I want his inherent curiosity to remain intact but I don’t believe his every fascination should be thoroughly indulged at the expense of other knowledge. I want him to be happy, confident and well-adjusted but I also want him to be smart, with marketable skills that will enable him to earn a living. Am I thinking too far ahead? Maybe, but I’m operating under the assumption that good habits start early. This is why we haven’t signed up for infant classes at the community college (yet — report from friend pending), why we may not be sending our child to school. Why I’d rather we listen to dynamic and honest music than kidsbop, watch documentaries and Stan Brakhage films than wow wow wubbzy. Why I don’t speak to my son like he’s a half-deaf dog. Because, despite (and because of) my acknowledgement that homeschooling is equatable with a superiority complex, I think I am pretty damned well equipped to teach my son to learn on his own. If that just makes me a different kind of douche, well, you heard it here first.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)


4 Sep

Here I am, accurately represented.

Shirt half off, stuffing some sort of sweet into my mouth. Rather, having a sweet stuffed into my mouth.
Sunglass-ed, with a pile of stuff sitting next to me. Maybe this doesn’t ever strike others, or maybe it only strikes people with a twinge (or more) of body dysmorphia, but I don’t often see photos of myself and think, well, there I am. That’s what I look like.

love letters home

14 Aug

Today, after a thoroughly nice first birthday party for a very sweet, toothy little boy, my own fell asleep in the car — something he hardly ever does, but has done twice in the past week. I decided to drive and let him sleep; it had been a long day, and he’d certainly wake up in transfer from seat to house. The light, the rare heat, the sleepy calm all made me homesick. It was a perfect day for driving to LA, for pointing out to George the signs depicting fleeing families, the top of the Matterhorn, the graffiti. For driving with the windows rolled down and cursing the traffic, for meandering those wide, smooth freeways that intersect and loop above. The comfort of the road beneath you, so well planned.
I sometimes think about George’s future, the childhood he’ll have versus the one he won’t. He will not have the luxury of avoiding Mission Beach for its tourist traps and dirty sand. Or the tamarind and chili paste to hate and eat anyway and learn to love. He won’t have the top of the Matterhorn to look out for.
California, its sunshine and lilting speech, its monuments to Mexico, to excess, to sentimentalism, its burritos, late hours and mall manicures are home to me as much as my own furniture. But my son was born here, with the potable water, the performance fleece. That a-preceding-g combination that sounds, to my ears, like drowning cats. His roadtrip won’t be Los Angeles but down the Mt. Baker Highway, past free manure signs and collapsed barns, a countryside you can almost hear sighing with self-satisfaction as you pass at 55 mph. So we drove it today, as he slept, as consolation. His first summertime, dusky hot and daydreamy car ride.
Later, though, we’ll do the real one together.

try, try again

13 Jul

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I am the first to admit that I’m a lackluster housefrau — cleaning takes a backseat to going for walks; cooking is mainly left to my (much better chef of a) partner; laundry gets done… well, when it gets done. I have books on these topics and I’ve read them all. Devoured them! A good cookbook, beautifully photographed and wittily composed is one of my most treasured bookstore finds. I dog ear the recipes that sound most delicious and vow to work my way through those before tackling the ones with main ingredients I find less than tempting. (Beets? Err…we’ll wait ’til Fall.) If I make three dishes from one book, however, it’s a feat to be commended because I enjoy the hunt a lot more than the preparation.
But now — now, we’re on a budget. Because guess what, you guys: teachers don’t make a lot of money! And stay at home moms, if you can believe it, get paid exactly NOTHING. I mean…those cherished moments with my son don’t exactly keep us in spelt pasta and agave nectar for my tea, if you know what I mean. So, we are at an impasse with our family diet. I flatly refuse to feed George anything that isn’t certified organic though we are living barely above the poverty line; there are just too many scary things in non-organic foods. I want his little body learning to navigate our living room without stepping on cats, not sagging under the weight of neurotoxins and carcinogens and dyes that make him hyperactive.
Well, it turns out that vegetables — ones you grow in your own backyard — are practically free if you start them from seeds. Vegetables you don’t grow yourself are still cheaper than a three-times-a-week burrito habit, and can be bought from — get this! — the people who grow them! If I had a mind to, which I often do, I could mosey on down to the farmer’s market on Saturday and, for ten to fifteen dollars, purchase an astounding haul of colorful gorgeousness from my neighbors. And the next week, I can come back and say hey, neighbor, thanks for that beautiful chard/those crazy fiddlehead ferns/the garlic-looking thing I’ve forgotten the name of!
The availability of wholesome food isn’t going to make me a better cook any more than my collection of unused cookbooks. But one thing it does: makes me a more enthusiastic consumer. Friendly farmers and dairy owners soften the blow of not being able to eat out when I want. The bummer of poverty is often feeling deprived. If I can support my community, feed my family with a clear conscience and spend my days feeling energetic and healthy, I can’t imagine feeling like I wont for anything at the dinner table.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated July 13 with all the carnival links.)

quick change trousers

24 Jun

George’s six month well child check is today, replete with shots. I figured nothing softens the blow of unexpected pain and the corresponding confusion like a new outfit, right?! So, last night, I tried another pattern from Anna Maria Horner’s book Handmade Beginnings. Like the other two projects I’ve made from this book, the quick change trousers turned out super cute and made up quickly. They’re fully reversible which I could not love more and the back yoke detail is simple but adds a lot of interest to what would otherwise be really plain pants.
(In the morning light George is so pale he looks like he’s glowing. Wonder where he gets that.)
They are undeniably hippy pants, but I love all the fabrics I used and I know I’ll be sad when I have to pack them away for the next baby.

Now we just need to hop the ferry to Orcas for a little hippy vacation.

baby in the hood

8 Jun

I had been waiting, breath bated for Anna Maria Horner’s new book, Handmade Beginnings to come out. I’d seen a few of the patterns and thought the mariposa nursing tunic looked, well, LESS like a maternity shirt than all the other nursing clothes I’ve seen. So I bought the book on sale and was so pleasantly surprised to find lots of other projects that actually align with my aesthetic pretty well. This is rare in the sewing world, unfortunately. Though I’ve been sewing for like 20 years, primarily with patterns, I very rarely find something just like what I was wishing for. I got the book in the mail and promptly made two (different!!) nursing tops — photos maybe later, if I am looking cute — and the “baby in the hood” jacket for George. It is precious, made up in about 2 hours with some pattern alterations (I didn’t fully line it, summertime coming and all), and fits him with a little room to grow in the 9 month size. My little butterball.

I’m so glad to be using up some of my fabric stash and I’m totally validated in my habit of keeping weird little scraps because I lined the sleeves with one scrap and made the hood stripe and button placket with another.

I am already having anxiety about George’s upcoming phase of hating mama-made stuff. I went through one, albeit a brief one where I eventually just learned to sew, and I’m sure my mum was bummed.