Friday, October 21, 2016


This was approximately my eighth long day in this old, southern city that had been devastated by the tornado. It was approximately my tenth visit to a family that had experienced fatalities as a result of the disaster. Up until now, my work had been concentrated inside the clean and sterile hospital where surviving family members clung to their own lives, with bandaged heads and broken bones, and legal drugs to ease their pain. But as we wrapped up with the infirm, we moved into the community and found a vastly different experience.

We traveled by car, where the roads would allow. The destruction from the tornado seemed unreal to me, looking more like photos from a blasted war-zone than any disaster I’d personally seen before. Buildings were in splinters, fallen trees speared through buildings like arrows in a target, and vehicles stacked in precarious positions, crushed and crumbled. As we left the hospital from our morning visit, we marveled at the luck (divine intervention, some said) of the hospital being unaffected, when just a block away it looked as if a massive bulldozer had plowed a large swath straight through the city. As we moved on by the aid of our chirping GPS device, farther away from the city center and away from the path of the tornado, I was surprised to see us turning into a neighborhood with no street signs, no sidewalk, homes with no doors, boarded windows—but not due to damage. This was deep, deep poverty.

There is a silence that accompanies grief, unlike any other silence. It is heavy—like the weight of high summer’s humidity in the Gulf States—and relentless. We approached the home with reverence, knowing that the people we would find inside were mourning the loss of a child, but I was unprepared for the experience.

The home, if it could be called such (though certainly, not in legal terms), had a piece of long, black rubber tacked over the front doorway. We were welcomed inside by our client’s younger sister, whose 2 children climbed and clamored for attention, searching through the bags of hygiene items we brought to every family in our visits. The apartment itself was not damaged, but every extra space was filled with donations collected at community support sites: cases of bottled water, still wrapped in plastic; bags and bags of diapers, stacked up high in the corner; a stockpile of toothbrushes. As I took a slow glance around the small room, willing my eyes to adjust to the low light, I noted how many people were crammed into this small one bedroom apartment—2 adults, 5 children. This may have explained the sour, stale smell, but perhaps that was a side-effect of the crushing heat in a window-less room. I was unsure.

The kids climbed up on the back of the old, worn sofa, perched atop like birds observing the world below. I settled onto the carpeted floor, crunchy with the evidence of discarded and forgotten snacks, stiff with dried spills. There was insufficient seating available, but that didn’t matter in this moment and I introduced myself to the woman of the house. If she could curl up on the floor, I could sit there too.

Grief, the uncontrollable sorrow, has a look. For some, grief contorts their bodies and faces into painful, wracking sobs. For others, like this woman, grief might crush the light out of one’s heart. She sat in complete silence, blank-faced, staring in the distance, and rocked slowly back and forth while tears (silent tears) rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t speak. She hadn’t spoken since she learned her oldest son had been ripped out of her sister’s truck and into the storm. She hadn’t left the house or showered in over a week. She was utterly consumed by her grief, a darkness that stole her ability to function and crushed all meaning in her present life.

I watched her as her sister relayed the story of the terrible moment—“My nephew, he was so scared of that tornado that he froze and refused to get out of the truck. He was just going to the store with me, but that’s when the tornado came and I was screaming at him, I was hitting him and screaming at him, to get out of the truck and run inside with me and the kids. But he wouldn’t come, and he was too big for me to drag out of that truck so I had to just leave him right there. They found his body a couple’a blocks away.”

Grief, when pairing the hopelessness of poverty with the loss of someone’s life, has a way of giving perspective to listeners. As the story wore on, I felt a pricking sensation across my leg, and hands, and back—and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the room, I realized just how far this family was living in the pit of despair. Cockroaches were crawling on me, were moving slowly across the carpet, were climbing on the silent woman and the children, and the walls. In all of my time, I had only seen cockroaches darting quickly about from one hiding spot to another, but without a door to stop them and a family too frozen by grief to care, the cockroaches acted like lazy flies sitting about the room.

I couldn’t say anything. I never mentioned the roaches, and they pretended they didn’t exist, and for a moment we allowed grace to exist in a place where desolation had taken hold. In grief, I found that my limits were boundless and my life given perspective. Cockroaches don’t matter when your son is dead.

Monday, September 12, 2016

30 suddenly feels very old

I've always heard phrases like "time passes so quickly," or "time is slipping by," and I didn't think much of it because I was too busy doing awesome things and having fun. 

Tonight though, rather suddenly, I realized that I understand those phrases-- the past 3 years have rushed by in a way I've never experienced before. The reason, I think, is my mundane existence in the career I'm building that has somehow sucked energy for my vital creative interests and the people I love. What good is life if we spend all of our energy and days working, or thinking about work, with no time for our personal interests?

I'd rather be pulling weeds, growing food, riding bicycles, cuddling babes, laughing, cooking, sewing, and enjoying life than spending 8 hours a day in front of a computer, plus an hour of shit lunch from the cafeteria of my office (a great design if you want people to spend even more time at the computer), plus 3 more hours sitting in a van commuting to/from work. It seemed like a great idea when I moved into this position in May... But the days grow shorter and my personal sense of happiness fades just like the summer sun. Wake up in the dark, sit in the dark all the way to work, and get home in the dark with only a couple of hours to spare before it is time to sleep, wake up, and repeat. 

Alas, the need for money drives all things. Want to have a kid? Work harder, save money, spend nearly an entire adult's salary on childcare so someone else sees your child through their most formative years. Want to live in an urban oasis? Work hard, save money, imagine buying a house but see market prices increase 24% in just 2 short years, effectively pricing you out of the opportunity to buy a house OR have a kid, because suddenly you're spending an entire adult's salary on a two bedroom rental while you dream about the house you never bought and the child you haven't yet been able to afford. Want a vacation? Work harder, save money, and decide whether you think the meager savings you've set aside is better spent on the dream of owning a home, the dream of having a family, or the dream of using your two annual weeks of vacation for a trip... And wondering if you'll recover financially soon enough to do any of the other things-- the supposed American Dream-- that seems so far out of reach. 

Fuck this. Portland sucks. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Vintage sewing for kids: Butterick 2725 #2

I made the kid a second dress out of denim with a woven stripe pattern, seen the same day as that first one. She likes it! I originally sewed it as a basic A-line dress without any details. 

I used red buttons from one my vintage tins, since I felt like it needed *something* but it still seemed pretty MEHHH to me. 

The kid agreed that she'd still wear it with pockets, so I added them + red piping. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Vintage sewing for kids: Butterick 2725

Earlier this year my friend loaned me this fabulous pattern from her stash-- isn't it grand? 

 I intended to sew a version with the fish pocket for my step-daughter (henceforth called the kid) but she wasn't keen on that design. Instead, she chose a great blue/white check fabric from my stash and we started with something very basic. 

Following version B, I bound the neckline and hems with commercial bias tape, which made finishing quite easy EXCEPT (there's always an except with me) that I skipped some steps and had to bind the shoulder seam. This meant I had to miter all the corners, which was super annoying. 

I've been having some trouble with the tension on my Bernina 1008, likely because I've been using poor-ish quality white thread that I got in bulk at the closing sale of a sewing store here in Portland. I'll take the machine in for a tune-up shortly, as I'm only one spool shy of finishing off the entire lot. Anyway, that contributed to wonky buttonholes and also my being out of practice. Good thing the kid won't care!

I used buttons from a tin of old buttons that my husband gave to me for Christmas one year. When sewing the buttons on, I put a crewel needle between button and fabric on the right side, which allows space for wrapping thread afterward for the all-important thread shank. That fabric is gonna lay so flat! 

Because this fabric was quite lightweight, I opted to underline the entire dress with cotton batiste. 

The kid tried on the dress and said it felt kind of stiff-- hopefully it softens up with wearing and washing. The main fabric send to be a linen/cotton blend, and I line dried it when pre-washing. I suspect the linen content because of the resulting stiffness after washing-- but I should do a burn test on a scrap to see what I find. 

I opted out of interfacing the facings, thanks to the underlining. Using the serge to finish edges was the quickest and easiest approach-- but the serger also needs some work with the tension. And final comment on techniques-- the dart stitching method is one I learned in an industry/commercial sewing course. I stitch the dart from clipped/marked edges, to about 1/16 inch past the hole marked with an awl, to the dart tip. Then I keep sewing off the edge for about 5 or 6 stitches to make a chain, then with my needle up, I bring the needle back down into the body of the dart and stitch backward/forward to anchor the dart stitches. I take care to watch the tension of the chain to prevent any pulling on th dart tip. 

And that's that! Dress is done. It was a very quick project, taking only a few hours included cutting time (really-- cutting takes forever without a proper table large enough). 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Roasted Tomato Passata

Oh summer-- your bounty of tomatoes has required an exhausting amount of energy from my past week, which I've considered an investment to warm me in the darkest, dreary winter days ahead. The air turned cooler this week, a welcome break after a heat wave with multiple days over 100 farenheit, and suddenly it felt a bit like fall.

Back in 2011, I wrote about my first round of canning tomato passata from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. That time, due to what we had on hand, the batch included onions instead of shallots and dried herbs instead of fresh. 

The recipe can be found on page 165 in the American edition of the book, but in summary:

Tomatoes (so many)
Shallots (peeling FOREVER)
Basil (fresh, from our garden)

After roasting everything together until soft, I passed all of it through the food mill. Because of my limited availability after work (my new commute is 3 hours round trip per day), I spread the roasting and milling out over 3 days and froze the purée during the meantime. I couldn't just keep it in the freezer because 

1) tiny freezer, duh
2) I have to justify my massive mason jar collection 

I added all the frozen sauce into a stockpot (technically, two, since I was short on space in just one) and brought it back up to a constant simmer/boil for a while before canning. 

Knowing I'd need a LOT of jars and that it would add time and work to boil them all, I made a leap of faith and tested the mini/portable dishwasher for the first time. After living here 2.5 years without every trying it, I have to say that I was very pleased! The heated dry cycle keeps the jars nice and warm while I waited between batches. 

In the end, I landed with 27 full pints and a refrigerator-worthy half pints. For dinner tonight we had grilled cheese dunked in that half pint of remaining passata-- which Steve declared was delicious. Success!

My coworker/friend shared his bounty of mom-grown tomatoes, for which I am very, very grateful. He surprised me with FORTY SIX POUNDS! I plan to share two jars with him-- one for himself and one for his mom, and I hope they enjoy them.  

Note: this project required peeling approximately 6 pounds of shallots. It was by far the worst aspect, and in the future I'll attempt blanching them first to remove skins. It was such a pain in the fingers/fingernails. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Milky Way

This afternoon I read an article posted by PBS, stating that entire generations of urban and suburban dwellers have never seen the Milky Way due to light pollution. 

I am incredibly saddened by the loss of our connection the natural state and wonders of our world. 

I grew up in a place where we often slept outside under the stars for fun, pointing out constellations and following the Milky Way's run across the night sky. On dark summer nights as children, we'd stay up late counting the shooting stars until our heavy eyelids coaxed us into sleep. We would wake up after sunrise, slightly damp from the early morning dew, to the sounds of people moving about their day to begin farm chores-- like grandpa whistling when he came by to pick up one of the kids to go feed cattle with him.

I miss that life. I miss the stars. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Handspun: Jacob sheep, bi-color, drop spindle.

In approximately 2011, I was gifted some beautiful sheeps wool already prepared into this pretty roving, stranded bi-color black and white, and I feel nearly certain that this is Jacob sheeps wool but I can't be certain since the gifter bought it from a farmside table. Endearing, right?

This yarn was spun very early in my spinning career, shortly after I had taken a spinning class and was only using a drop spindle for production. I had relocated from Utah to Washington, and took the wool with me.

The yarn itself was spun into single and then 2 plied against itself, resulting in a very homespun-feeling yarn. I've never used it for knitting, but believe it's still tucked away in my handspun stash somewhere amongst lavender sachets and the wooden hand cards that I hated using.