Thursday, December 27, 2012


I've been catching up today on the pop music I missed in 2012.  I don't listen to a lot of music on the radio, occasionally on the rare car trip that I forget my cd case, I'll surf country/rock/pop stations, but that's usually a drop in the bucket for what's out there any given year.

Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" has me rocking in my cube.
I know.  Pop music... cliched old cliche.... I still like it.

I really feel like 2012 was a mile marker for me.  I do feel stonger.

When I walked out of ESCO that summer of 2008, there was a large part of me that just felt broken and beaten. Life went pretty far downhill for the next year or so, unemployment, a baby born I couldn't pay for, WIC, food stamps, self doubt about my worth and my choices.

2009 saw us move to NW Iowa, to take a job I had huge doubts about. What if I couldn't do it? What if the problem was me, and not ESCO? What would we do if I crashed and burned again? Maybe I should just take the hint and switch careers to something ag related...

There were definite bumps, I'm sure I didn't have as much experience as my new company would have liked, but they didn't fire me after the first few months.  They didn't fire me when I messed up my first big project.  I just kept showing up for work, even when I went home crying.  They kept paying me, and kept training me and kept encouraging me.

Somehow, at some point this year, I finally feel like I broke past my leftover issues from ESCO. I may not be the best computer engineer in this world, but god damn it, I am not the worst.  I feel like my decision to leave them was not only the right decision, but I wish I had done it earlier. I feel like I do have worth as a programmer, and I am good at my job, and I haven't felt like that since I was a stripper.  (Yes, I know, there's a bit of irony in the fact that my last high point of self esteem was during my tenure as a nude dancer.  Let's move on.)

I recognize that programming will never be my passion.  It just won't.  There is still part of me that wishes I had stuck with geology or gone into something related to Ag, but I just didn't have the guts to switch out of Comp Eng while I was in college.   And who knows, maybe those degrees would have left me more destitute than I am now.  Hindsight may be 20/20 but we can never know what might-have-been.

So, we're finally digging ourselves out of the financial hole we fell into.  Student loans are still horrendous, and what they've done to me over the past 6 years should be illegal, but of course it's not.  I still owe more on those loans than I did when I graduated.   But, other debts are slowly getting paid off.  If the economy can keep things together for another 3 months, I think we will see our bills decrease by about 25%, as certain debts reach a zero balance.

I know our vows didn't include the classic, "for richer or poorer" but Dave has definitely seen the poorer side of things, and I'm cautiously optimistic about having some time together on the not-so-poorer side of things.

I'm hoping that 2013 sees us saving up to move somewhere closer to relatives and like-minds. Interstates has been good to me, and I will be forever grateful for the space and support to heal.  But, we aren't going to be happy here long term.

I feel good about the future. Yes, I still think our country is headed for rough times, yes I still expect to hit bumps, professionally, and personally.  But I feel stronger.
I feel confident in my abilities. I know I can lean on my partner and vice versa and we can make it through anything.

Hopefully this isn't an ego trip of a post.  (It could be argued, and probably has been, that keeping a blog at all is an ego trip.... whatev.)  I'm just in a retrospective mood, what with the end of the year around the corner. And speaking of stronger, I'm almost back to my high school weight again, after baby #2.  I need to go buy new pants and a new belt. :-D

As we head towards the new year, I'm hoping that all my readers are on an upwards swing. If you're not, keep fighting, keep striving, and don't try to go it alone.
Happy New Year.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter's a'comin

We have our first big winter storm (for this year) bearing down on us, the fun is supposed to start this evening.

We are as prepared as we can be. We've got a ton of food in the house, and a couple of new snow shovels. One of the new shovels is a small one designed to go in cars I think, but we got it because it's just the right size for Rowen (boy #1.)  Shoveling is sooo much more fun when there's a 3 year old helping. :-D

We won't be headed out tonight to pick up last minute essentials.  If it's essential, we have backups in storage for it. We certainly won't be headed out for gifts or decorations. I think the boys have a couple of store-bought toys, but everything else is largely DIY or handmade.

It will be nice to have snow on the ground for Yule.  Silly, I know. But with time off from work, and no gardens to tend, I like playing in snow.  Shoveling is ok when I need to get in some exercise, but building snow people, snow forts, snow sculptures, is all just fun.  I love sledding too, and Rowen is just about old enough to take to some gentle sledding slopes.

It's also nice to be headed into winter and know that I'm not going to be ginormously pregnant. I've got all my balance and flexibility back from pregnancy with Logan (baby #2) and I'm quickly regaining muscle strength. There's just something about pregnancy during winter that makes me feel especially vulnerable, and I'm glad to be past it.

Anyway, I hope this storm finds you and yours bundled up warm and toasty.

Have a great Solstice.
May the darkest night give way to a brighter morning. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Here's another way to give

Aid going directly to the families of the Sandy Hook elementary victims.

Two Sisters

Sometimes it feels like I have two sisters.  I don't, I just have the one. But, it's hard to grasp that the addiction riddled, organ-killing, homeless person is the same sister I grew up with.

I was remembering this morning, a fond memory of our childhood in Oklahoma. My mother was sending us up trees to collect mistletoe for the holidays.  All three of us kids were tree climbers, but Melody was the best.  She could climb higher and longer than either Will or I.  She was fearless.

Not a word I can use anymore in conjunction with her name.

I wish I had advice for others facing a similar disconnect with loved ones. But I don't.
She was a bright, athletic, normal sort of kid. She was a high maintenance teenager, but who isn't? Did she fall in with too many drinkers in high school?  Was she genetically predisposed to alcoholism?  Maybe.
Was there more we could have done as a family? I doubt it.  She's had more help and more opportunities than many young adults get. We've tried interventions, tough love, no-strings-attached love, none of it seems to help.
It can't help, not until she decides to quit her addictions, and that's the only fight we can't fight for her.
It can't help, not until she loves herself as much as we love her.
Not until she stops trying to fill the holes in her life with alcohol or the latest man/boy/sugar-daddy.

I know, logically, that there's a good chance she'll die before she gets to that point.  That is almost too painful to contemplate.  I want to delete it from this page, and never think about it or write it again. But, something stays my hand. Something in me needs to have that out in the open where it can't fester in the dark and quiet corners of my head.

Give your loved ones an extra hug this year when you see them. Count your blessings if they are whole and happy and leading productive lives.  For those of you fighting through the pain of addiction, your own or a loved ones, know that you're not alone. Find a support group, or make your own if you need to.

Let's go back to that happy memory of the mistletoe, that's a lot nicer to write about.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees and bushes. Birds eat the ripe (white) seeds and then as they clean their beaks on branches of trees, the seeds get "planted" for the next generation. The mistletoe has no roots of its own. What it does have is tiny extensions called holdfasts, that grip onto the bark of the host plant. They also serve as a sort of umbilical cord, and suck the nutrients from the host. Because of its dependence on the host, mistletoe is only found on living trees. Mistletoe plants can be either female or male; only the female has the beautiful but highly toxic berries.

Mistletoe as decoration during the dark of winter is an old tradition. Predating Christianity. In the old druid and pagan traditions Mistletoe represented the Green Lord, or Saturn.   

No one loves a party like the ancient Romans, and their festival of Saturnalia is one of the most well-documented celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This week-long bacchanal included exchanging of gifts, lots of food and wine, dancing and music. Slaves got the week off work, courts were closed, and all kinds of debauchery took place. This festival honored Saturn, of course, and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go as far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.

:-D See, much more interesting than you may have thought.
Go send your kids up a tree for some mistletoe if you live in an area where they grow.  I've not seen any since we moved to Iowa, so I think it needs warmer locations. Good Luck! Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Charitable Giving - As An Atheist

My company has a great program, called, "Jeans for Dollars."  In return for $5 a week out of an employee's paycheck, said employee can wear jeans to work on Fridays.  The $5 gets combined with all the other $5, and a check is written each week to a different local charity. It's an optional thing, no one is pressured to participate. For the first 3 years of my employment here, I elected not to participate.  Even during the time when I was on the committee that managed the list of 52 charities.  My problem was always that the list was chocked full of religious leaning charities. Faith based charities, church organized outreach, whatever you want to call them.  It seemed like there wasn't anyone in this area doing charitable works without needing Jebus along to proselytize.

I wasn't interested in sending my money to religious based organizations.  In my opinion, the harm done by religions far outweighs the good their charitable arms do.
I feel like fewer women would need rescue shelters if fewer of them followed church doctrine.  Telling women they are inferior to men. Telling women to stay home and raise as many kids as possible, preaching against practical birth control options.  Telling women not to pursue education or careers. Telling women not to speak or teach as those are men's roles, yes, that IS still happening.
All of that just leads to women who have far fewer options when the Shit Hits the Fan; when Lord-Husband becomes abusive, or a user, or just has the bad luck to die.  I don't want to imply that running a family and keeping house are easy, or not hard work, they are. But, they don't translate well into jobs that can support said family. Especially when the person in question has no other training or certifications.
I feel like you can't, as an organization, intentionally and systematically limit and debase an entire HALF of the population, and then turn around and want accolades for, "All the good we do."

Where was I? Oh, right, the company program. My plan was to find a few secular charities in the area and either get them on the list, or just send them my money directly. Sadly, no such charities exists in the area.  This is a really religious corner of the upper midwest.
Additionally, my wardrobe has shifted a little since baby #2, and I have some better fitting jeans than I do work slacks. Winter is closing in, and jeans are warmer than my work slacks.
All of this combined to convince me to finally sign up for the program.  I try to convince myself that in the trenches of poverty and addiction, maybe these organizations are actually doing some good. Some of them provide food for women and kids, some provide emergency housing.  If they are more Christian than I'm comfortable with, well, maybe I can live with that for now.  And maybe I'll rethink things once summer comes around and I'll remove my $5 from the program.  :-D Stay tuned for further developments.

Here are some excellent secular charities, for those interested in charitable giving before the end of the year.

Camp Quest - a secular kids camp, they have scholarships for kids who might not otherwise get summer camp experience.

Foundation Beyond Belief - They aggregate charitable giving by humanists and atheists and give funds to a set of causes/charities every quarter.

Burners Without Borders - the usual "without borders" deal, a group of people interested in volunteering to help others. They take donations of money and time.


Friday, December 7, 2012

What Do You Call It?

Hubby and I were raised in different areas of the country. Neither of us is really "from" somewhere, as we both moved around extensively.  In general though, we grew up in different parts of the country. Different parts of the country, with apparently different language customs. It's a bit funny when it comes to names for pieces of furniture, or parts of rooms.  I never realized how many different names there can be for one piece of furniture.

We find that if we don't address it head on, we'll spend months talking past one another, missing important directions or requests because we're not understanding what the other is talking about.

We had to go through the  house and point at things and say, "We're going to call this the, "small pantry," and this will be, "front mudroom," and this is the, "large pantry," and this is the "small mudroom."

It was the same with furniture.  I always called the main table, "the kitchen table." And it drove Dave nuts, because it's not in the kitchen. hahahaha  I'm trying to get in the habit of calling it the "dining room table," but it's a hard habit to break. And we have this TV hutch we got somewhere, I think from my mother, and we don't have a TV, so we use it to sort mail and hold the archives of past years' mail.   I spent 5 minutes today trying to get him to pull out a piece of mail for me so I can call the guy from work today, and I couldn't get him to understand which piece of furniture I was talking about.  He says he would call it a cabinet, as opposed to a hutch.

I think this can come up in other situations, not just marriage.  At least for those of us who don't live and die in the same city we were born in. Take the time to clear up the language confusion, before it becomes a problem. :-) Your team, or family or whoever, will appreciate it.


Sorry for the long blog silence.  I've been blogging a lot with my paid position, and I don't have the pressure in my brain to get things out like I used to.  Most of my prepper/survival posts are going to that blog, and no longer going up here.  If you want to know where that blogging is happening, let me know and I'll whisper it in your ear (digitally speaking.)   I don't want to link to it, because we're trying to keep my writing on that blog entirely separate from this blog.

I am going to try to put up more posts here moving forward. Call it a new year's resolution. Smaller things, quicker to write things. 
Probably more culture and personal news and probably some sewing projects show and tell.  And, probably a few more of my Jennie-rants, that can't go up on the other blog. :-D

I hope your winter solstice season is full of warmth and family and good food.  Take care!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Breastfeeding Exclusively While Working Full Time

As a full time working mother, creating a new life comes with some very real challenges. Problems of balancing time and energy, as well as managing expectations. There's also the necessity of handling the physical demands of both the job and the baby.  This post is exploring some of the paths I've taken this year and what has worked well for our little non-traditional family arrangement.

Young Logan was born in April. My employer was great about making sure I was weaned off of projects and prepared for my team to step in and take over anything I was working on when baby's timer went off. That part of maternity leave went really well. There were very few hiccups after my water broke early Weds morning and I asked my team lead to take over responsibility for the work I had planned for that week. I had no hesitation about making that call, and nothing but excitement about meeting the young lad that I knew would be out soon. (Well, excitement and a good dollop of fear and anxiety, but I'll save that for the birth story.) I know I'm blessed to have those privileges. I say blessed here, only to use a word other than "lucky," as I don't believe I'm lucky. I'm not happy with blessed either, as it implies that the blessing was bestowed on my by a deity, which I also don't believe in. The family friendly practices of this company were the main reason they lured me out to the middle of nowhere NW Iowa.  There was no luck involved, I worked hard for my engineering degree and was extremely picky about the job I accepted here. There are lactation rooms, fully supported FMLA leave policies, my boss is a woman and has had 4 kids with this company.  These were all things I verified before taking the position, even though at the time, I wasn't expecting to need to use them.

Anyway, I wanted to be clear on where I'm coming from with this post. I know I'm fortunate in the facilities and the support I receive, and it saddens me that not every woman in America has at least this much support. There's no right or wrong way to be a good parent, and I don't want to imply that this is the only or best way for anyone other than us.

I had 12 weeks off in total.  There were 5 of those weeks where I received 50% pay, from the temporary disability insurance the company carries.  The rest of the time off was without pay.  As the main income provider for my family, this required a lot of advanced planning. For the 8 month prior to the delivery, I sent 400$ a month towards the Health Savings Account (HSA). Plus I transferred a good chunk out of our savings into there, something on the order of 1 or 1.2K. We have a $4,000 deductible on our current health insurance and I knew I wanted at least $3,200 in the HSA before baby came, in order to have enough money in there to cover most of the medical bills.  I also tried to get every monthly bill paid up or paid ahead so that the first month after baby we could ignore the mail without anything getting shut off.

Jennie, what does any of this have to do with breastfeeding? Well, I'm getting to that part.  All of that work ahead of time set us up so that I could take the maximum allowed time off. I didn't want financial pressures pushing me back to the office, before baby and I were physically ready for it.  12 weeks is barely enough time to ensure that, 5 weeks or 6 weeks would have been really hard.

At 10 weeks out, boss lady and I decided that I would come back part time on week 12, using the last week of FMLA, over a 2 week span. I worked a MWF schedule my first 2 weeks back, using FMLA (unpaid) leave for T/TH.  This helped ease both baby and I into the work routine. On my end there was the pumping regimen to endure, and the desk schedule of 7:30-5pm.  On baby's end there was adjustment to bottle feeding with Dad.  Once I knew my start day, I had to make sure that there was enough milk pumped and frozen to sustain baby for that day.  This was a bit of a guess on my part. I knew how many feedings he usually had, and I tried to make sure there were enough bags in the freezer to cover the number of feedings I expected to miss. I didn't really know quantities, so I tried not to worry about it, and I had an extra bag to cover a bit of guessing error.

A few words about pumping at work.  I have to pump 3 times a day at work. (I work the aforementioned schedule of 7:30-5 in a cube.) My company has 50+ employees, so we have a lactation room. (It's also a server room, but not high traffic.) My boss leaves my pumping breaks up to me to schedule and follow and work around. I try to stick to a schedule, I use my calendar and repeating alarms to help. I have found that it's not critical though, I can swing one feeding by 30 minutes in either direction and not have any problems.  It takes me 15 minutes to pump. I usually combine my pee break/coffee refill and pump break, so I'm away from my desk for 20 minutes each time.   By the end of the first week of full time pumping, my nips were hurting enough that I had to break out another set of Soothies pads to ease them a bit Friday and Saturday. Second week of full time went a little better.

A few words about the pump. I bought a double electric pump, with letdown programming. I got the cheapest brand in that tier of pumps. Lansinoh's. It didn't come with a bag, or with icepacks but it came with everything needed to pump. I made a bag, because I'm cool like that.  It does help to have a bag for it, that way I can easily and discreetly carry it to work on Monday mornings, and home Friday evenings.  I use my lunch box to carry the milk home in.  It's rare for me not to bring my lunch, so that works fine in my situation.  If you know you need a bag, and you know you need a specific ice pack/cooler solution, make sure the pump you buy comes with those. Otherwise, save your money and buy just the pump.

With each pumping session I pump both boobs, simultaneously. (Ha! It took me 9 paragraphs to say boobs. You're welcome.) I expected that to be difficult the first time, but it really wasn't. Letdown has always happened in both, when one is stimulated, so that part didn't feel any different. I always have one lady that lets down a little quicker than the other. It varies each day, depending on my nursing habits the night before.  I just keep the pump in letdown mode until both have letdown, then I send it into pump mode. Usually there's only 5-30 seconds difference, so it's not a big deal.

Along with the differences in letdown timings, there's also a difference in quantity. Every day is different, but there's always one that's producing more for whatever reason.  Then as the day progresses, the quantities lessen.  I can pump 7oz total in the morning session, but my noon session is usually only 5-6 oz, and the afternoon session is usually only 4-5 oz.

So, I usually pump 16-18 oz at work every day. That's still matching up to what baby eats at home with Dave. I know there are some days he wishes he had an extra bit, but he's usually able to keep baby calm (if hungry) until I can get home.  There is an extra bag for emergencies in the freezer, but we both do our best to leave that one there for true emergencies, and not just to calm the baby because we can't deal with another 10 minutes of screaming.

Eating for two is a bit of a hassle at work.  I eat as much as I can for breakfast, and I bring a jam-packed lunch bag for work. Lots of fruit and veggies to help me feel full and keep me away from the vending machines. Lots of water, to keep hydrated. Lot's of whole grains and lots of dairy.   It would cost a fortune to feed me 700 calories at a fast food place, and it wouldn't have the required range of vitamins or whole grains, so I don't even try.

After lunch I toss my ice pack in the freezer to get chilly, and then when I'm headed home for the day I put my 3 bags of milk in the now empty lunch box.  At home the milk goes straight in the freezer.

Evenings and nights Logan and I nurse as often as he wants it.  Well, as often as I can mange to sit my butt in a chair and let him nurse.

Really, I think that's the hardest part, giving up my night and weekend freedoms to care for this little proto-human. Which is a selfish thing to admit, but I'll admit it.  I didn't magically become unselfish or less independant-minded because I birthed spawn.   Hubby, who knows me better than I know myself sometimes, was the first to put a finger on it when my frustrations were getting the best of me. Now, I try to be mindful of the transient nature of this bond between baby and I.  30 years from now it probably won't matter if there was less garden produce or a few less salsa dances. I'll have more garden seasons, I will dance again, I won't have another year of breastfeeding Logan.
Some days that mantra works better than others.
But, that's life, yea?

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Greetings readers.
I am still alive. :-D

Having a baby is like getting hit with a ton of bricks.  :-D  I promise, I'll have his birth story up soon, but the important bits are, he's here, we're both fine and life is slowly regaining a bit of rhythm.
Logan Ash Erwin  is what we saddled him with and he was born April 19th in the wee hours of the morning.

It's been a wonderful spring and we've had a great start to the summer too.  I've been enjoying every intoxicating moment of his newborn months.  All the wonderful baby smells, baby kisses and little coos.  The digital world took a backseat as real life held me enthralled.

My full time job went on hiatus for an 11 week maternity leave.  I'm back part time right now, and will resume full time in a couple of weeks.  Yay for employers who aren't asshats!! :-D  Seriously though, America lags so far behind other industrial nations for maternity leave, I'm happy that this company fully supported my 12 week leave, but I can't help but feel that I would have loved a 4 or 5 month break.  Sigh.. C'est la vie, n'est pas?  I'm back to 90% full speed, and feeling great, so hi-ho hi-ho, it's back to work we go.

I'm once again gardening 3 different gardens, which is an odd mirror to my postpartum period with Rowen, when I had 3 different plots in Des Moines. Peas had a good run this spring, Rowen even got into the spirit, and every time we went out to the garden he asked to pick "Peee-pod!"  Lettuce has gone wild in my yard, it's literally sprouting up in the grass and along the edges of every flower bed.  Love it. I had a great crop of radishes, and found out that I like the White French Breakfast radishes a little more than the typical little red ones. Rounding out our salad heaven was a terrific batch of green onions.

I just harvested my beloved garlic crop.  18 beautiful heads, some of the biggest I've ever grown.  Yay!

Whoops!  There's the baby call, gotta run.  I promise, more posts about everything soon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new

I got a lot of sewing done this past weekend. Show and tell time!
I finished up a cute new pillow case for me. It's all cheerful birds and bright colors. I think the winter blahs have set in.  I saw the fabric in my local quilt store, and I HAD TO HAVE SOME.  I was tired of my old maroon Walmart pillow case, and I knew bright cheerful birds would be a vast improvement.
No word on whether Dave wants a matching one for his pillow. :-D :-D

I also got some new diaper covers done for Rowen.  Some of his current size have met their grungy end. They are stained and faded and some are even ripped.  These new ones should help, until he potty trains, and then they'll be around for boy #2.  The frog one is made like all the rest, with one layer of solid colored PUL material and an outer layer of cute cotton fabric, joined with the fold-over elastic.   The owl cover is a new method, using just one layer of PUL material, with the cute pattern printed on the non-laminated side.  It was a lot faster for me to make that one, and I'm curious to see how it holds up in comparison.They both use velcro for fastening. Bonus, the frog one was a WIP that had been sitting around my sewing room since I sewed up the first batch over a year ago.  Yay for getting one more WIP out of the way!

I also got some curtains sewn together for the boys' room.  They are jungle themed, which should go well with the ducks and monkeys and zoo animals that are already abundant. I still need to get the jungle animals appliqued on, then I'll snap some pictures and show them off.   I made progress on the blue and yellow quilt for Rowen's bed, and progress on the mini-quilt that I'm making for the mini-quilt challenge at Ellison Lane.

And now, for fun, here's some belly shots of me and baby this weekend, 3rd trimester gigantic.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Independence Days - 2/17

Well, like a lot of places, we are bizarrely warm here in NW Iowa.
I've got my seeds in from Seed Savers, but there are still seeds I haven't cleaned from last fall. Namely basil because I couldn't stand to be around it, and some lettuce because I just haven't got to it yet.

Plant something: I haven't actually planted anything yet.  The plan this weekend is to get my little cold frame squared up, weeded and seeded with something cold hardy. Perhaps spinach or chard.

Harvest something: Freakishly warm, it may be. Harvest season it is not. Nothing to harvest. I am still curious if I could get edible syrup from what I think is a Crimson Maple in our yard.  Now would definitely be the time to do that.

Preserve something: Again, not much preserving going on. Although, I have some apples on their last legs that may get sauced this weekend.

Waste not: I rescued the worm bin from death. I added in some fresh organic waste and a new layer of shredded paper. We used the compost pile a lot longer this year, where normally we would have switched to the worm bin sooner, and I almost let them die of starvation.
I made some cute valentine bookmarks out of trash cardboard and scrap fabrics.

Want Not: I bought a bulk package of pork and froze about 3/4's of it. Not local or organic, but the price was right.
We bought a bag from an Army surplus store to make into a BOB for Rowen. He's about to transition out of a diaper bag and into something more suited to his status as child instead of toddler. It's small, but will be able to hold a change of clothes, a couple small toys, and some food and water.

Eat the Food: We tried a couple of new recipes this week.  Dave made some tasty biscuits and brownies from scratch, as well as some Potato and leek soup. We've been eating the pears and green beans and corn that are in storage.  We're running a race against time trying to eat the potatoes that are sprouting. I'm down to my last 2 heads of garlic. (Lots of dried left though.)

Build community food systems: See, this is why I like this challenge. I've been slacking off, and weekly reminders are good.  I haven't even started organizing a seed swap for this year, and if it's going to happen, I have to get a move on.

Skill up: Round two of lounge pants for Dave (or am I on round three now) is going much better.  They fit nicer and look nicer than the previous attempt.  I think he'll like them.  The quilt I'm working on is going much faster too.  Yay for practice! 

A slow start to the season, but it's nice to be thinking about growing and preserving.  What have you done this week?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Independence Days!

The Independence Days challenge is back! Yay!  This is one of my favorite challenges, hosted by Sharon of The Chatelalaine's Keys and Casaubon's Book.

The whole idea is to get the positive sense of your accomplishments – it is easy to think we haven’t done anything to move forward, but in fact, we all do, almost every day.  We just think of accomplishment as a big thing – a whole day spent putting up applesauce or a hundred tomato plants.  The Independence Day project makes us count our little accomplishments and see that we are moving forward.  So for each week, tell us what you have done in the following categories:
Plant something: A lot of us were trained to think of planting as done once a year, but if you start seeds, do season extension and succession plant, you’ll get much, much more out of your garden, so I try and plant something every day from February into September.
Harvest something: Everything counts – from the milk and eggs you get from your animals to the first dandelions from your yard to 50 bushels of tomatoes – it all counts.
Preserve something: Again, I find preserving is most productive if I try and do a little every day that there is anything, from the first dried raspberry leaves and jarred rhubarb to the last squashes at the end of the season.
Waste not: Reducing food waste, composting everything or feeding it to animals, reducing your use of disposables and creation of garbage, reusing things that would otherwise go to waste, making sure your preserved and stored foods are kept in good shape – all of these count.
Want Not: Adding to your food storage or stash of goods for emergencies, building up resources that will be useful in the long term.
Eat the Food: Making full and good use of what you have, making sure that you are getting everything you can from your food, trying new recipes and new cooking ideas, eating out of your storage!
Build community food systems: What have you done to help other people have better food access or to make your local food system more resilient?
And a new one: Skill up:  What did you learn this week that will help you in the future – could be as simple as fixing the faucet or as hard as building a shed, as simple as a new way of keeping records or as complicated as making shoes.  Whatever you are learning, you get a merit badge for it – this is important stuff.

I really need the reminders right now of all the things I do that don't feel worthless wastes of time, so I intend to participate.  Y'all might get bored with the Friday updates, but at least they'll be a bit more cheerful than my doomer posts. :-D  Join in if you feel like it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Letting Go of Middleclass

Historic abnormality.  That's what one of my favorite bloggers calls the modern day middle class. Anthropologically speaking, how do societies organize? Labor at the bottom, with a ruling class at the top supported by the excesses generated by the laborers.  Modern man managed to tap in to a vast payload of ancient excess, enough to glut even the most ravenous of ruling classes, thus letting enough dribble through that a percentage of the laborers get to experience some of the perks of ruling class lifestyle. It's near impossible to convince any of those enjoying the experience that what they are living is an abnormality.  It's gone on for generations now, (at least in the global North) long enough to convince all of them of it's permanence. Like fruit flies, the memory span of the species is only so long. They've forgotten what is normal.  "Oh, those norms don't apply any more, for Pete's sake, we've been to the moon, there's nothing we can't do."  You know what we can't do? Make more oil.  I know what else we can't do. Run anything more than a fraction of our current lifestyle on renewables and muscle power. The math just doesn't work out. Not without a huge population die off, and that would create it's own problems. Math is hard to argue against, but of course the hopeful fruit flies still try. The Archdruid says it best, as usual.
"In 1929, America was still an expanding society, with an economy that was still producing something other than fiscal hallucinations, and a standard of living that had been moving raggedly upward for a good long time. ... Most Americans could reasonably expect that with hard work and prudence, they could expect to have a better standard of living in the future than they had in the past, and their children could expect to do better still.

Those days are long past. For the great majority of Americans, living standards have been declining since the early 1970s, upward mobility is increasingly a nostalgic dream, and it’s becoming harder even for government flacks to keep pretending that training people for jobs that don’t exist will make those jobs miraculously appear. Ours is a contracting society, and outside of the narrowing circle of privilege—itself facing, a little further down the road, a far more drastic form of downward mobility—most people realize that hard work and prudence, the road to a better future in past generations, are merely a slightly slower road to impoverishment than the one everyone else seems to be taking.
A great many Americans, for example, think that being hopeful in the face of the depletion of fossil fuels means assuming against all the evidence that some ample replacement will be found in time to allow us to keep our energy-intensive lifestyles running. A great many of us more generally think that being hopeful in the face of the limits to growth means trying to convince ourselves that those limits don’t apply to us, or that there will turn out to be some way around them, or that somebody or other will bail us out before our refusal to deal with those limits lands us in consequences harsher than we want to think about.
The only way out of the trap, as I’ve argued here rather more than once, is to accept a steep cut in your standard of living before it becomes necessary, as a deliberate choice, and to use the resources freed up by that choice to get rid of any debts you have, get settled in a location that has a fair chance of keeping a viable degree of community life going, and get the tools and learn the skills that you will need to manage a decent life in an age of spiraling decline. To those who cling to the idea that they can maintain their present lifestyles, admittedly, it’s hard to think of any advice less welcome, but the universe is in no way obligated to give us the future we want" - Archdruid
 The universe is in no way obligated to give us the future we want.  I can't get those words out of my head.  Most days are a battle against bitterness. Don't get me wrong, I'm a generally happy person, I love my family and all that jazz, but there's a kernel of bitterness that wasn't there a decade ago. I know why it's there. What I do for a living is not what I wanted to do with my life. I have a job, a good job. I don't discount the benefits that bestows on my life. My family eats good food, often, in a cozy house in a low crime neighborhood. I have all the securities of the ruling class, but none of the freedom. The engineering degree that was the ticket for my grandfather to live a stable life free of debt, has become a millstone around the neck, not only for me, but for most of my generation.  Our debts are rising far faster than our expected income gains. We are financial serfs. My private loans from college won't be paid off until I'm 50. You can imagine what that does for my ability to take risks and try new things. An entire generation, crippled by debt. There go your job creators. We're all so debt ridden we want only to occupy a job, and send large chunks of the pay towards the loan companies in a desperate attempt to deal with them. This is what it looks like when a historical abnormality is coming to a close.  You work as hard as you can, but there's not quite enough to satisfy the demands of the elite to be supported and to raise your own standard of living.

Middle class is no longer an option. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer.  Most days I feel like I'm doing alright if I'm managing our descent gracefully.  That's all I aim to do. I can no longer forget the historical abnormality. It stares at me in the face every day. I go to work and I make sure I have enough supplies to get home if today is the day it all collapses.  I don't plan on my kids going to college, I hope I can teach them enough to get them accepted as apprentices in a craft they can support themselves in. I don't plan to ever have my debts paid off, the most I aim for is to be somewhere safe when I can't pay them anymore. I highly doubt I'll ever have a retirement savings account to speak of. Perhaps I'll get some social security if that's still around in 50 years, perhaps not. At this point, the safe place to land includes a bit of land to grow food on since only 2% of our population is growing our food, and those guys are all approaching their 70's. (Another historical abnormality) I grow and can food now, not because I really have to, but because I want the practice for the time I know is coming, the time when it won't be an option.  I sew my clothing and diapers and blankets, we could afford to buy them, but I might as well get the practice now. I'm pretty sure my children will not have the excess energy to manufacture diapers and blankets or the money to ship them in from China. 

The work I do at home helps me deal with the dichotomy of going to my job everyday. I automate factories.  The very same automation in the very same factories that deep down inside I don't believe will be running in another 20 years. I don't believe we'll have the power grid to support it, I don't believe we'll have the distribution to sustain it. The economies of scaling up and centralizing and automating are all based on the excess energy and materials that we had back in the halcyon days of oil gushers and steel exports. Putting more holes in the ground and sticking more straws down them are not going to magically create more oil, no matter how much ground water we ruin with the latest technology. Creating demand for more iron is not going to make it come out of the ground.  I can already see the signs, the cracks.  Projects that get delayed because the iron has to come from China, and it takes twice as long to arrive as original estimates.  Parts and equipment with months of lead times (the time between ordering the part and arrival) because of components that use rare earth metals that are becoming harder and harder to source.  Plants that used to run full tilt 24/7, content with the knowledge that it didn't matter how much energy it took, product out the door always equaled profit, now have to scale back and monitor energy use and look at energy efficient ways of producing that same product, with materials that require more processing to get them up to snuff.

I can't really be the only one seeing the cracks. Some are much more obvious and not at all metaphorical. The American Society of Civil Engineers lists the total unpaid/undone infrastructure repairs in this country as around 2.2 Trillion. Not one single aspect of our infrastructure got higher than a C grade. I can't believe that these failing systems are going to support even a faint facsimile of the middle class lifestyle, that historical abnormality that so many think of as a permanent. I just can't.

Middle class is an endangered species. You can’t save yourself, nor can you return to it. Don’t try to hold on until the bitter end. Just let go while you have some control.
Lord Bison 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Homemade Toys

I love making toys for Rowen and Boy #2.  (No, we don't have a name chosen yet, and probably won't until he's actually breathing air, it's just the way we are.)  I love that I can use scraps and little bits of "trash" and come up with fun educational toys for them.
I'm not shy about my opinion that we're on the downside of Hubberts curve. As we progress down I think more and more of us are going to need to rediscover the lost art of making and crafting.
These toys were made from some trash cardboard, construction paper, left over yarn, and scraps of flannel left over from making crib sheets and butt wipes. The only things I really bought were the little plastic needles and the stuffing for the blocks, since I used up the last of what I had halfway through the big block.

I got the idea for the sewing cards from a blog I stumbled across.  I totally copied her design idea, but I just free-handed the 3 designs I liked onto the cardboard and cut them out. I traced the construction paper from those cardboard cutouts so they'd match, and the middles are the circumference of an oatmeal container.  Then I glued them together and drew some faces and details on.  I chose a thin cardboard, so my handheld hole punch was capable of punching through.  Then I threaded yarn through all the holes so I could guesstimate the length needed, and tied a bead on. The bead does double duty, it keeps the kids from having to knot anything, and it keeps the needle trapped on the yarn.  The yarn can be used for any of the 3 cards, without any rethreading of needles or picking apart knots. (Well, less picking apart of knots, I'm sure they'll manage to knot things somehow.)  The first evening of play went over well, Rowen's been begging to help with the sewing for a few weeks now.  He sees me quilting or sewing buttons or whatever, and he's sure he can help with that. Hopefully these will give him a way to channel that that doesn't slow me down as much.  He caught on to the holes and the needle and how those work, he didn't have a nice clean stitch when he ran out of yarn, but he got the gist and did 3 cards worth before I put things away for bed.   Not bad for a 2 year old.

The squishy stacking blocks came from an idea I had when Rowen was still gestating.  The large block got cut out but never sewn together, and was sitting in my WIP pile.  So, I finished it, stuffed it and made a second smaller block after I cut out a bunch of wipes this weekend.  One WIP finished, scraps used up, total win.

Of course,  doing-what-Daddy's-doing is still top of Rowen's list of fun.
And much fun is had.
Take that Angry Birds! I strike a blow for low-key entertainment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Organizing and Getting Stuff Done

I had a huge push to get sewing projects done and out of my sewing room the past few weeks.  Some went as presents for Yule, others are hanging in my living room, yea, I'm looking at you big blue.  Others went straight on Rowen's butt.  hahahah

Show and tell time. :-D  First up were Becky's curtains. She loves purple, and fairies, so I used some Fairy Frost and Flower Fairy fabric.   Her window is large, so it was hard to get a good picture of this once it was done.   She really liked it though.

Next up was Willie's flag for his fort that Becky built in the backyard for him.  He requested a red and black flag with a spider on it.  So of course that's what he got.  I free-handed the whole thing in an afternoon.

While cleaning the sewing room I dug up some old projects that never got completed when Rowen was a newborn.  A couple of bibs made with some yellow terry cloth and blue fishes, and a green froggie bib that my mother started and only needed velcro attached to finish. Those are finished and will be put to good use I think.  Next to the bibs is a random Mama Pad that was cut out and ready to go. I think that green dot pattern was what I used for Sarah's set last X-mas.  I think I'll probably keep this random one, since I'd bet good money she's not used the pads.  It sewed up quickly, and reminded me that I need to find time to remake some postpartum pads.
Under the Mama Pad is the last of the prefolds that I finished up.  These were cut out during the sewing weekend with my mother back in Nov? Dec?  I made a set of 6 and I really liked how they turned out. Sadly, in spite of prewashing, the birds-eye fabric shrunk a lot more in the first few washes, so they are already a little small for Rowen.   Grrrr. So, memo to self, add a couple of inches to allow for that shrinkage when dealing with this nice birds-eye.   Another project started at that sewing weekend was a set of swaddle blankets.  Purple, Blue and Green, (chosen before I knew the gender on baby #2 lol) flannel with some cute jungle animals cut from a fat quarter and appliqued on to a corner for interest.  We really liked swaddling Rowen, and never seemed to have enough light weight blankets of the right size to do it.
Next up, and again, started at the sewing weekend, was a set of 4 fitted diapers for Rowen.  I have 2 done, and 2 left to complete, hopefully this week.  I used bamboo velour for the inner layer, with a soaker layer of hemp terry cloth (4 thick) and Ooga Booga cotton velour for the outer layer.  Velcro closures.  It took about half a diaper to remember the tricks of the elastic and such with these, so the left leg on the left diaper isn't as stretchy as it could be.  I'm a terrible seamstress and didn't rip it out and fix it. :-P

After getting all that goodness done, I spent some time returning the sewing room to a state of order. My spools of ribbon went up on the wall. There they are contained, easy to use, and out of reach of both babies and kitty. I threaded them onto a couple lengths of random yarn and ribbon and tied the ends to two tacks. I put some fabric on the mini-bolts that I bought at the quilting show in Des Moines.  I don't have nearly enough of those to put all my cotton interlock on them, but it is nice to have a few projects worth of the especially pretty stuff organized and out where I can enjoy them. The rest of my fabrics live in Rubbermaid totes and I went through those as well.  They are now organized by type of fabric, and LABELED so that if someone other than myself wanted to find something, they could conceivably do that.  All of my patterns got a going through, and they are organized in an old hanging shoe organizer. 

The last piece of organizing took the longest. I had put the mail sorting baskets in the sewing room, just due to lack of any other place. It was clearly  not well thought out. Mail was just piling up on the kitchen table. So, I dug it all out of the sewing room, and off the table, organized the 2011 mail and filed it away. Then I moved an unused TV hutch out of the sewing room and into the dining room where it now holds all the sorted mail from years past, and the mail sorting baskets for this coming year.  It looks much nicer, and gives me more room to work in the sewing room.
There's still a bit more work to do before I call it good.  My mother sent me some yarn that needs going through, and I need to rearrange now that the TV hutch is gone.   I'm pretty happy with the progress though.