Wednesday, April 22, 2009

craft = power

Yesterday, Jacob and I were eating lunch and listening to one of my favorite newer NPR shows, which featured an Earth Week segment on greener parties and celebrations for kids. You can listen to the segment and read the comment thread that inspired this post here.

Just a note on the idea of being "crafty": I have never really thought of myself as crafty in the hipster sense, or even the Girl Scout arts-and-crafts sense. Maybe it's because I've never been much of a visual artist. I don't do any knitting to speak of (yet) and I don't own a hot glue gun (yet). I do have a haphazardly-thrown-together craft box, containing seemingly useless bits of metal and plastic and fabric and cardboard. For the most part, I'm interested in crafts, as long as either a) I can make something useful instead of buying it or b) I can make something out of material that otherwise would have been thrown away, or both.

During the past year or so, I've tried to embrace crafting from this perspective; I wanted to give Khymi a bathrobe for Chanukah, but I was sorely disappointed by the fact that cotton terry seems available only for babies and hotel guests. So I used a newly-acquired sewing machine to make her one out of old towels.

Or there was the maddening situation with the cats. They happily scratch the couch or the rug, but not the carpeted scratching post, which I bought at PetSmart a couple years ago and which remains largely untouched. One evening, after another discouraging walk through the cat aisle looking at overpriced cardboard scratchers, I took a utility knife to a few of the cardboard boxes that cover our basement floor, and inspired by this post over at The Good Human, Jacob and I made a small scratching pad in a couple of hours. Lila took to it instantly (an unprecedented behavior). Free!

So I suppose I've been driven to craftiness out of necessity. But I don't think crafting should be overlooked as a frivolous or decorative pasttime. Check out the etymology of the word:

Old English cræft "power, strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf-. Sense shifted to "skill, art" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led to the n. meaning of "trade."
Indeed, in modern German, Kraft still means "power". Many crafts--woodworking, ceramics, sewing, fiber arts, cooking, gardening--have become nothing but quaint upper-middle-class hobbies during this time when goods are cheaply and easily made and shipped far and wide.

But on this Earth Day, I ask you to hold on to your crafts, my friends. Cultivate and maintain them as well as you can. Learn to create and repair objects of lasting function; with your head and hands, give them real use, and with your heart, give them beauty. Don't just think of craft as a way to pass the time or a neat thing to do, although it may well be; don't even just think of it as a way to save money, although it may well have to be; think of it as power. The power to produce rather than consume, to process rather than discard, to sustain rather than deplete. The power to put as much art into your craft as you desire--to make a four-tone Fair Isle sweater, or simply to darn a pair of black socks to save them from the rag pile.

The Western world is beginning to take an interest (see my mom's course offerings for next year if you want proof)--let's hope it lasts. On Earth Day, we hear a lot about saving the Earth. Let's make one thing very clear: no matter what happens, the Earth will be fine. What we're really worried about is saving ourselves, our world as we know it. Which aspects of humanity should we be saving? Which ones are worth letting go?


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


...Is this thing on?

Maybe someone will see this, in the off-chance that small red house has been hibernating away on your blogroll, in your bookmarks, on your Google Reader, even. Well, hello, there.

These have been a real crackerjack eight months, haven't they? Last I checked, the President was making up words like "arbo-tree-ist", and here we are just a few months later and they've got an organic vegetable garden at the White House. Hot damn!

Then there's this messy business of what they're calling a global economic crisis, but some of us didn't have much money to begin with, and we already live off of lentils and flush our toilets with buckets of water from the shower, so we're not hurting any more than before. Yet.

What else is new? The big girl is 8 now. She reads whole books cover-to-cover and has the attention span to watch A Hard Day's Night in its entirety on YouTube with us. Good times.

And in the fall, we got a new cat. Actually, we were sort of given a new cat. My friend Rachel found her in Baltimore in front of the Rite-Aid at 32nd and Greenmount. She was a little...uncivilized at first, but has settled in really nicely:

One internet habit I've been decent at keeping up all this time is garden tracking on Folia. If you garden/farm, it's worth checking out. You can see all the details on my Folia page, but this year we're growing more tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and spinach, plus some new stuff like daikon radishes and little compact softball-sized muskmelons. We've also planted more flowers in hopes of getting more pollinators to hang around (and to improve nectar flow for the bees that we may, someday in our dreams, keep in our backyard).

So I guess we're back. At least I am, for now. I'll write in more detail about other happenings in the next few posts. Hope life has been treating all of you well.


Saturday, February 14, 2009


never could make much sense of this one.
indifferent, passive and strangely luminous
fires up the glow of helios himself
lulls comfort and then once again
when i forget to drink enough water
it would be a thoughtful gesture to
tip the clay pitcher
but out streams a flurry of milkweed seeds
bobbing up and away in the dry air.

that careless blow of cold
left me standing with sweaters on my floor
warm-faced, lightheaded
northeast wind through every thread.


Friday, August 22, 2008


I wrote most of that last post over a month ago. Now our blog and our ("official") marriage are coming up on the one-year mark. And I think it's time for me to take a break.

I've always been an enthusiastic member of the internet generation--learned basic HTML at 13, started blogging at 18. I'm happy for the ways in which online communication has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with friends and family, near and far. If it weren't for the internet, I don't think Jacob and I would have met, although it may have been remotely possible.

But recently, my outlook has taken a turn. I'm feeling deeply disillusioned and unsettled by a feeling of online anomie. It isn't the result of a particular occurrence, but rather an accumulation of smaller experiences. And it's offline as well as online. For example: I often see car magnets proclaiming the message Choose Civility, which references a small movement in Howard County spurred by this book. Take a moment, if you have the time, to contemplate the need in our society for an entire book essentially explaining how to be nice to other people.

I am too often shocked and perplexed by the cruelty and abuse people are capable of inflicting upon each other. These days it's just been wearing on me too much. Governments around the world are starting wars, killing innocent people over money, resources and power. On the morning we left for the beach, a troubled and unstable gunman walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire, killing two people, injuring six, and leaving the rest of the congregation, the denomination and other well-meaning people everywhere asking, "Why?" How could this happen? How could anyone do such a thing?

I've found myself more affected by even the smallest displays of insensitivity--those not at all on the scale of the acts I just mentioned. The driver who leans on her horn the second the light turns green, not noticing that the car in front of her is waiting for a pedestrian to finish crossing. The man at a restaurant who doesn't bother to make eye contact with the waitress, speak to her in full sentences, or say "thank you." The girls on the playground who deliberately leave another girl out of their game for no reason, whispering, "just ignore her." People all over the internet who think that behind the shield of their computer screens, they can say whatever hurtful things they want, bend reality to their advantage, or make themselves out to be superior.

There's hope yet for the girls on the playground. The rest of us, I'm not sure about. I used to think that when you asked someone, "How are you?" they'd say something like, "Fine, thanks; how are you?" Now I'm learning not to expect that as much.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Strength to Love that to contribute positively to the world, one must have both a tough mind and a tender heart, and that softmindedness and hardheartedness are equally detrimental to one's efforts in doing so. He wrote,

The hardhearted person never truly loves. He engages in a crass utilitarianism which values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him. He never experiences the beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another's joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island. No outpouring of love links him with the mainland of humanity.

I see hardheartedness everywhere I turn, and it drives me crazy, as I'm sure it must drive many of you crazy, too. I used to think that my persistent good will and tenderheartedness would be enough to make a dent while also giving me some sense of hope. But it hasn't, really, and I think it's not just all the hardheartedness that's giving me trouble. It's the combination of that and my own softmindedness. I'm smart enough to act toughminded some of the time, but toughmindedness ultimately isn't about intelligence. It's about focus, discretion, discipline and mental fortitude. With my mind weakened as it has been by the effects of MDD and ADHD, attaining those qualities has been a steep uphill struggle. And it's been hard to extend myself to love, and to accept love, without also being overly affected by my encouters with carelessness, selfishness, apathy and inhumanity.

So I think it's time for me to turn my energy elsewhere and continue working to build a tougher mind, more of a balance. I won't be writing here for the time being, and I won't be reading or commenting as much, either. As you may have noticed, Jacob hasn't been too psyched about blogging after typing on a computer all day, so it'll probably be pretty quiet around here.

I've let my social networking accounts go fallow as well. I might stick around on Freedom Gardens, since there's not much involved. Otherwise, I'll be on email or in the real world. I'd love to hear from you in any of those places.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.


the invisible stepfamily

Sorry about the absence, everyone. I'm still sort of decompressing from several crazy-but-wonderful weeks of summer parenting time. It's pretty much baptism by fire for me, compared to the typical parenting learning curve, and considering I'm still somewhat new to this. It feels a little jarring to be unceremoniously thrown into "mom" mode, including being called "your mom" by many well-meaning (but presumptuous) strangers, while not actually being Khymi's mother--not wanting to be, not pretending to be; just assuming similar responsibilities. I guess some would say a stepmother is a kind of mother, but I'm quite aware of the fact that I am not Khymi's mother. That title has always belonged to someone else, and it always will.

Every now and then I read another stepparent's account of their integrating a partner and the partner's child(ren) into his or her life, and although I hear a lot of familiar experiences, I've never much liked the "instant family" image that is often described. Maybe many people think of blended families as something like The Brady Bunch. The thing about the Bradys is that Mike was a widower, and no one really knew what Carol's story was, but each set of children was supposed to have been raised exclusively by one parent for some time, before Mike and Carol met and they were just one big happy family--emphasis there on one.

The Brady Bunch and its cousins like Yours, Mine and Ours (also about the blending of two widowed families) don't really portray the typical blended family, because they conveniently eliminate any need to discuss divorce/separation and shared custody by making the parents' ex-partners either deceased or completely out of the picture. For most of us, that's just not the case. In my opinion, to call one's new nuclear family an instant family isn't entirely fair to the child(ren) involved, or to the other adults. To me, "instant" it makes it sound effortless for a child to automatically become "ours" and have that be the end of it, when in most cases, the child is also someone else's, and that's a significant part of who that child is. This is true even when one of the parents is deceased or absent, and it's certainly true if the child's other parent is present and involved in his or her life.

The fact that the kids have another parent/family somewhere else isn't a bad thing, nor should it reflect negatively on them. Although the two-family situation can sometimes present challenges that non-blended families do not have to face, for the most part,
it's just the way it is. I really don't think it would have been that complicated or inconvenient for Marcia, Jan and Cindy to take an episode off because they were with their father that day. Sitcom writers have made far more unlikely storylines happen when they really wanted to.

If I were to make a movie or sitcom about our family... well, it wouldn't be interesting enough. (That's why we all have blogs, right?) But hypothetically, I couldn't even consider making it seem like it's just about the three of us and our life here, no matter how simple it might be to edit here and there to make it look that way. So much of who Khymi is comes from her mother and maternal family, her life and experiences at her other home, and also from her past, years before either her stepfather or I even knew she existed. None of those parts of her life involve me or are under my control. That doesn't mean, though, that I can just operate as if those parts don't exist or matter. If I did, I would essentially be rejecting my stepdaughter's integral, whole being. And so, while we spend most of our time together focusing on maintaining a good family life in the everyday and in this place, Jacob and I know that we are just one side of her uniquely multifaceted life. We are one family, but we are not her one and only.

It's a little tiresome, but when one of those well-meaning counselors or teachers says to Khymi, "Let's show your mom what you've learned," I smile and say kindly, "I'm her stepmom, but I'd love to see what she's learned. And maybe we can take a picture to show her mom, too."


Friday, August 1, 2008


For once, I'm not talking about the stuff at our house.

My mom, textiles PhD and sustainable consumption blogger Nice White Lady, is doing a series this week on clothing/textiles made from bamboo. We personally are all too aware of how "highly renewable" bamboo is, but does that alone make it a more eco-friendly source of material for fabrics? Find out here.

As for us, we're finishing up a week at the beach, so we'll catch up after we get back.


Friday, July 25, 2008

waste-free lunches part 4: "hidden" waste reduction

So maybe everything I've written is no news to you. You've been using food savers and cloth lunch bags and water bottles and cold packs for years, and you've got a pretty healthy diet. What else is new? Maybe it's time for us to examine the processes behind our seemingly simple choices, and remember that not all carrot sticks or granola bars are created equally.

When I wrote that list above, you may have thought to yourself, "Wait a minute. Granola bars?" A product that comes individually-wrapped in a cardboard box of six doesn't seem to belong on a list of waste-free lunch ingredients.

Granola bars are another manufactured and packaged food product that used to be on my regular shopping list, especially if I knew I had a car trip with Khymi coming up. Apart from scanning the ingredients for anything questionable, I didn't really think twice about tossing the box in the cart or grabbing a couple of granola bars on the way out the door. That was until I discovered how easy they are to make at home, with whatever ingredients you like best.

Just poke around online and you'll find lots of recipes for different kinds of granola bars.

A recipe that's working for us right now (adapted from Vegetarian Times):

Chewy Granola Bars! (not vegan.)

2½ cups rolled oats
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, or lower protein flour like pastry or rice flour [what's up, Allie?!]
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup almonds (you can chop them up; I like to leave them whole)
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup almond butter
¼ vegetable oil
2 egg whites
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C
  2. Grease a rectangular baking dish (glass works well)
  3. Combine first four ingredients (dry powdery things) in a bowl. Add the next three (dried fruit/nuts) and stir to coat so the fruit doesn't stick together as much.
  4. Beat last 4 (wet) ingredients together until smooth. Stir in dry ingredient mixture until well-combined (this works really well in a stand mixer, but a wooden spoon would also probably do the trick).
  5. Spread mixture in baking dish and moosh it around with a spatula to compress it and make the top and edges nice and even. Sprinkle a little salt on top if you like. Bake for about 30 minutes or until firm. Cool completely before slicing into bars.
Other recipes are probably really similar. What's great is the versatility--cut into bars of whatever shape and size you prefer. Store them in an airtight container, and pack in lunches, or for road trips or kids' sporting events (for daily lunches, I'd pack one in a very small rectangular food saver). Many of the ingredients are interchangeable, so if you hate raisins or are allergic to peanuts, you can just leave them out. Use a different sweetener (brown sugar, brown rice syrup, honey), or no sweetener. The recipe above might not be vegan, but there are a bunch that are. Crunchy eating habits notwithstanding, you could throw in some M&Ms (or bacon bits, or whatever), if the mood takes you. Experiment!

We take so many of these industrial foods for granted, when it's usually not so hard to find or make food that's local, seasonal, and/or uses less packaging. Here's our list from the "food" post again, this time emphasizing some of the hidden choices we found we could make:

-Pita pockets with hummus and lettuce, with sliced tomatoes in a separate container to be added on top before eating (prevents sogginess) [Homemade hummus using dry chickpeas and olive oil purchased in bulk with reusable containers, lettuce from our garden, tomatoes from the farmers' market]
-Tortilla roll-ups with separate containers of egg salad and fixins [Homemade tortillas using bulk flour, local eggs from the farmers' market, homemade plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise]
-Regular sandwiches (peanut butter & jam, hummus & pesto spread with lettuce and the separate-tomato container) [Homemade bread stored in a reused bag, bulk grind-your-own peanut butter in a reusable container, homemade jam using local strawberries, homemade pesto using homegrown basil]
-Cold leftovers from dinner (cold sesame noodles, pasta with veggies, rice and beans) [Bulk pasta, rice, dry beans, and soy sauce; veggies from CSA share and farmers' market]
-Carrot sticks or cucumber slices with hummus or dip --[Carrots purchased in 5-lb bag, cucumbers from farmers' market, dip made from homemade yogurt and homegrown fresh herbs]
-Fresh fruit [Seasonal fruit (peaches, apricots, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) from the farmers' market]
-Dried fruit or trail mix [Purchased in bulk]
-Granola bars [Homemade granola bars using bulk rolled oats, flour, maple syrup, almonds, dried apricots and cranberries, local egg whites, and bulk grind-your-own almond butter]

What a difference, huh? And these are just the choices we could make, or were willing to. Yours would probably look a little different.

We still have replacements we're working on--for example, one of our big lingering plastic-packaged vices is tortilla chips. We eat those like it's our job. So we'd like to start making corn tortillas for fresh tortilla chips instead. Same thing with crackers. And one of Khymi's favorite quick lunches is pan-fried dumplings--I even put them in her lunch as a treat on the first and last days of camp--but we buy the packaged frozen ones; we don't make them from scratch. How hard could it be?

Well, I think that's it. Any other lunch box tips out there? How easy has it been for you to pack fresher, healthier lunches for yourself or your family? Have you found that sacrificing "convenience" hasn't really meant that much of a sacrifice? What about in the winter when less fresh produce is available locally?

Other reading about healthy or waste-free kids' lunches:
  • Jacob's Aunt Nora is a school health consultant and writes a blog called Create Healthy Schools, where she discusses healthy school lunches among the many other components of a healthy school.
  • is a site sponsored by the makers of Laptop Lunches, offering lots of advice on reducing waste in portable meals.
  • The Vegan Lunchbox by Jennifer McCann is a source of tons of healthy, impeccably-presented, low-waste, kid-friendly lunches from a vegan perspective.