31 December 2008

Christmas at our house

We had a lovely Christmas this year. Our apartment is so small that we don't have room for a Christmas tree this year, so we got some poster board and I outlined a tree, then the kids colored it in. We hung it on the wall and taped some ornaments to it and it is lovely. It comes down today and will be put away in case we need it another year. We hung ornaments from the ceiling and strung lights around the walls at the ceiling, so our living room looked quite festive. Cait is spending Christmas vacation with us this year, part of a new agreement that now eliminates our being on the road on Christmas Day every year for the 4-hour round trip between houses. This is the first time since Terry started working this job that I have had both my husband and my daughter home on Christmas morning. He works on Christmas on odd-numbered years and doesn't get home until after 2, and on those years Cait would spend Christmas morning with us, but go back to her dad's at noon. So this was an exciting year for me.

We even invited my mother over to spend the night Christmas Eve so she could be there first thing in the morning when the kids wanted to open their presents. By the time dinner at 2 rolled around, though, I think we all had had enough of each other. She left shortly after dinner to go visit my brother in Concord, and Terry and I heaved a sigh of relief. But the kids enjoyed her being there the whole time.

We tried to keep Christmas simpler this year. I hand knit something for everyone, and we got them socks and underwear (which they desperately needed), Terry got them each a DVD, and in their stockings were a couple of candy canes, a new cocoa mug with some cocoa mix and a few hair ties. We also got each child one specific present: Cait got needle nose pliers for making jewelry, Moira got a sketchbook that she has been asking for for weeks, Lauren got a stuffed animal since we accidentally culled too many of their dolls, Rowan got a Magna-Doodle since she is always drawing and uses far more paper than I am comfortable with, and Eirik got a rocking horse. My mom gave them each an article of clothing and a book or two. Cait also made presents for everyone, too. Overall, they got what they needed and something they wanted. Next year, though, I want to spread the purchase of such items out over a longer period of time. Did you know that socks and underwear for 5 kids costs $72! One package of each for each one. Egads!

We didn't overdo on confections, primarily due to our new diet, but I am making some decadent chocolate and coconut bars for tonight as New Year's Eve. We also get to get some of our baking fix by hosting our church's coffee hour this Sunday. Overall, it was a good holiday.

Making progress

I see it has been over two weeks since I last posted anything here. Terry has an appointment for Monday for a physical and to go over the results of lab work he had done this past Monday. We have done a lot of reading about diabetes and insulin and blood sugar and are adjusting to a new diet. After doing some quick caluclations, we realized that he was consuming somewhere around 1000g carbs each day, 750 from soda alone. The USDA recommends 300g per day, and I know that is way higher than it needs to be. He is reading The Schwarzbein Principle right now, and we have read Eat Fat, Lose Fat and some articles by Dr. Mercola and Dr. Rosedale. We are awaiting Life Without Bread through interlibrary loan so it is next on the list. After just this short amount of time with no soda and cutting way back on carbs, his knee has mostly stopped bothering him and he isn't so grumpy. Other symptoms have dramatically reduced as well. I have high hopes. We do however have to buy him some new clothes. These last several months he has lost so much weight that his jeans are now 4" to big in the waist and his shirts are hanging on him. He just got these clothes last February and they fit him perfectly then. So now we just wait for his doctor visit and he wants to get a glucometer.

12 December 2008

Health care and poverty

I find that I have to post an update to my last post, to clarify our situation. I have gotten three responses so far, one was an offer of financial help to get treatment, one was encouragement to find a way to get help, and the third sounded like a scolding for not valuing my husband's life enough.

After receiving the offer of a check from my friend in Europe, I was in tears from her generosity. I started calling around to find out what the total cost would be. When I called the local clinic/hospital's billing office for prices, she told me that they have multiple programs to help those without insurance. The first is a 30% uninsured discount. Secondly, they will work with you to come up with an affordable 0% interest payment plan. Thirdly, she sent me paperwork for up to a 100% income-based discount. She told me there was no need to let finances get in the way of getting help.

But I still have another reason for hesitating to go to doctors. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. The medical system in the United States is so broken due to corruption. I truly believe that the privatization of health care should be considered a crime against humanity. No one should ever be forced to choose between going to the doctor for a major illness like this and getting warm boots and snow pants for their children for the winter. Or, if it is expensive enough, food to feed their kids. The question is not, "How much is your husband's life worth?", but, "Why is anyone allowed to put a price on human life like insurance companies and drug companies are?"

The medical system has fought against diabetes since the dawn of written history. Anthropologists use diabetes as a marker of civilization. It should therefore be obvious that going to the doctor will not take care of the diabetes. So why go to the doctor then? I do not believe in going to the doctor for treatment of disease. Doctors cannot cure. Doctors can diagnose and can monitor diseases, but they cannot cure them. Healing is done by the body, not by drugs. The only way to truly cure any disease is through proper nutrition (which varies widely depending on whom you talk to) and a careful, deliberate lifestyle. I am willing to go to the doctor for injuries, diagnoses and monitoring, but I will not take their drugs.

Back to the comment though about valuing my husband's life. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that most people do not truly understand what it is like to live in poverty. To ever wonder where they will get groceries to feed their children next week. To be homeless. Remarkably, I was homeless when I first met the commenter nearly 20 years ago. Perhaps he didn't realize I was homeless. Most people have never worried about not having enough money for gas to visit their little girl who lives with her father nearly 100 miles away. These aren't the worries of the average US citizen. But we live these questions a few times a year every year. It is no fun having to call up your daughter to say, "I'm sorry, honey, but I can't come get you this weekend because we have to replace the tires on the car and then I won't be able to get gas, and I don't want us stuck on the side of the road when we run out."

Poverty is alive and well in the United States but most are blind to it. Poverty is what makes us have to choose whether or not we can afford to go to the hospital for a diagnosis of a potentially-fatal disease. It isn't free will, it isn't apathy, it isn't that I don't love my husband with every ounce of my being and don't know how I could live without him. It is that it is a long and complicated and therefore expensive process, one that could very well require surgery (for ancient knee injuries that make it impossible for him to do much physical activity), and that means time lost from work, which means reduced income, which could mean that we have to ask those hard questions again. Doctor or food? What kind of a choice is that? One driven by poverty.

So why don't I get a job? Again, this is a complicated question. At first blush it would seem the answer. First, we have several small children. Daycare costs alone for 4 children, 2 not yet old enough for school, would completely consume all of my potential income and more. A friend and I recently discussed how it might be possible for his wife to stay home with their baby. His baby is about 6 months old or so and he told me that daycare for her is $500 per month. That is one child. Now multiply that by 3 (full time for the two younger, part time for the two older) and that equals $1500 per month. That is more than I can hope to bring home in a paycheck, and is only a little less than my husband brings home. Sure, we could apply for state-funded child care, but that would be an extra $1500 or so burden on the state. Currently, we receive almost $600 in state aid as food stamps. Do you, the taxpayer, really want to replace that with $1500 that the state can't afford since it can't balance its budget?

Secondly, my child support payment would go from $50 per month to about 25% of my take home pay. When I was working full time (which was until 5 years ago) I paid nearly $100 per week in child support. So that brings the cost of my working up to about $1900 per month. Still can't afford it.

Thirdly, when I was working full time, our family life suffered terribly. The children were always cranky about having to go to a sitter, I was angry at society for not paying my husband a living wage and therefore requiring me to work when I wanted nothing more than to stay home with my children and be a mother. To keep the daycare costs down (though not completely eliminated) my husband and I worked separate shifts. That is hell on a marriage. We nearly got divorced. So quality of life is another cost of working away from home, though one that defies a price tag.

We have a plan of action now, one that we worked out after the encouragement from my friends cleared my head so I could think more strategically. I am not letting him go without a fight. Never doubt that.

04 December 2008

Diabetes

After observing my husband's health for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that he has possibly full-blown diabetes. The trouble is that we can't afford the $200/month or more that health insurance would cost us. Why so high? Well, first, he works in the medical industry (a nursing home) which automatically puts his rate very high. Second, he opted out of all benefits in exchange for a 10% higher hourly wage; they call this modified compensation or mod comp. He is still eligible for some benefits and still keep his mod comp we have discovered, so starting in January we will get dental insurance for the two of us as well as eye coverage. The kids are already covered through Healthy Kids Gold, the state's low-income insurance plan for children only. Neither of us has had a dental checkup in over 5 years, when I left my job and we lost insurance through my employer. My husband is almost ready for reading glasses and I get headaches when I drive at night from what my mom says is astigmatism. I can't read road signs because they are so bright at night with the reflective paint that they smear all around and give me headaches. And my headaches hit not with pain, but sleepiness. For a long time I would routinely fall asleep behind the wheel after dark. When I had to be at work at 6 am in the middle of winter, I would allow myself an extra half hour of commute time so I could pull over and take a nap.

Anyway, I digress. My husband's health has gotten to the point that last night I started googling the major issues he has and each one came back as a complication of diabetes. These last few months he has gotten serious about weight loss. To give an idea of the scope of what he is struggling with, my husband is 6'1" and weighed 500 pounds this past summer. That was his peak. He began drinking a smoothie containing coconut oil most mornings before going to work and with that simple addition alone has lost just over 70 pounds so far. That was without any other change in his diet and no increased exercise because his knees hurt him so badly that he cannot do anything more than walk, and unless it is an emergency, our two-year-old son walks faster than he does.

After a huge argument we had recently he has given up soda. He is addicted to it and was drinking an average of about three 2-liter bottles each day. I tried to get him to quit by pointing out the financial burden of $100 per month for his soda habit - money that we could be using to build up our food reserves or towards a down payment for some land. I tried pointing out the health effects of soda, both regular and diet, but he just chose the lesser of two evils - HCFS over aspartame. I tried complaining about the amount of trash it generated, so he started bagging up the bottles to take to his friend who turns them in for the bottle deposits. Finally I had to tell him that he had to choose between the soda and me. It wasn't pretty. I told him I cannot watch him die slowly by his own hand. He snapped back that you can die just by walking down the street, and I said that yes, that is possible, but at least then you are living each day instead of dying each day. He then stomped downstairs and poured the bottle of Mountain Dew he had just bought and poured it down the tub and hoped I was happy. It wasn't until my dear Jenny pointed out that he was exhibiting classic addiction behavior that I had the courage to fight with him like this.

I am very proud of my husband for giving up soda. He has tried many times before and failed. It has been about three weeks now, I think. He has gotten some organic soda, but they are $4 for 6 cans, so he gets one or two a week. I can accept that. I am hoping that this will set him more firmly on the road to good health.

Now I now must find a way to feed him. We believe strongly in local eating as much as possible, and we also believe strongly in a diet rich with animal products as promoted by the Weston A. Price Foundation. They recommend a low carbohydrate diet (60-70 grams per day) for those with diabetes in order to help bring the pancreas back to health and promote weight loss. Sounds great. But that means that he can't eat all the wheat, rice, potatoes and carrots that I have stored for our winter reserves. Mind you, I don't have a lot stored, as I have been slowly building my reserves and didn't start until just a few months ago, but we have enough to feed us (somewhat monotonously perhaps) for a couple of weeks as long as we still have access to fresh milk and eggs in the case of an emergency. We buy our milk locally and they also sell eggs, so I have no fear of losing our supply of those. I far more fear the supermarket shelves running empty in the next few months as lack of credit prevents supermarkets from making their purchases and prevents food from getting shipped.

But how do I feed my husband now? The local winter foods here are beans, starchy vegetables and grains, with some salad greens if they are grown with season extension techniques. I can't imagine beef stew without carrots and potatoes, chili without rice, casseroles without starches. Whoever heard of a casserole that didn't have pasta, potatoes, or some kind of wheat-based crust? I have to completely re-examine all my options.

02 December 2008

Christmas trees

My mother remarked that it has been a while since I last posted, and I suppose she is right. Right now I am crazy knitting, trying to finish the last of my Christmas presents before, well, it was supposed to be before Dec. 1, but that has come and gone because I was playing World of Warcraft too much. So now I am hoping to be done by the 15th or 20th. I just don’t want to be knitting on Christmas Eve. I have also been busy house hunting since we would like to be able to move right after Christmas. Finding 4-bedroom houses for rent is not easy.

I thought today I would talk about Christmas trees. A week or so ago, I was driving with the kids downtown and the fire department was putting lights on the big tree in the square. Rowan remarked that it was the same tree they decorated last year. I agreed and said that was the best thing to do. Which got me thinking about the tradition of Christmas trees.

I hate fake Christmas trees. I deplore them. They don’t smell good, they are a pain to put together, and I consider them a waste of resources. But a real Christmas tree has been cut down at a time in history when we need all the living trees we can get. No, I am not naïve enough to think that it contributes to deforestation, because I have been to a Christmas tree farm and cut my own before. But how good is it for the soil to keep replanting Christmas trees each year? Our soil is depleting at a terrible rate and we need to build it up, not strip it further. I have done no research on the soil necessities of Christmas trees, so I don’t know exactly what the burden of a Christmas tree farm is. But I do know that we have no way to make use of the tree after Christmas. We have no woodstove in which to burn it for heat, we have no compost pile in which to rot it for soil. The only thing we can do in our city apartment is to take it to the dump. They will probably burn it there, but that fire doesn’t benefit anyone by keeping them warm. It only makes room for more brush.

This year we have talked with the kids and decided to forgo a Christmas tree this year. We will hang the lights around the rooms downstairs and hang the ornaments from the ceiling where toddlers and kitties can’t reach them. It helps when proposing such a thing to one’s children to point out that Laura and Mary Ingalls didn’t even see a Christmas tree until they were almost teenagers and they never had one in their house. The children wanted to know where Santa would leave the presents and so that is one thing we are still working on. Laura and Mary got their presents in their stockings. That is an option if we can find a place to actually hang their stockings. We usually leave them on the ends of their beds since we have no mantle. I am not leaving all the kids’ presents on their beds for them to open before we adults even wake up. We will figure something out in the next three weeks.

Yikes! Only three weeks? I have to go back to my knitting. I still have a pair of socks to make. I will try to post again soon.

02 November 2008

Offline

I am embarking on Pioneer Week tomorrow and am thus swearing off the computer. Go check out Crunchy's challenge by clicking on the banner to the right and join us. I will see you in a week.

31 October 2008

27 in 33

By the time I turn 33 in March, I will have moved 27 times. And I have spent multiple years in multiple houses. My first move was when I was 4½ years old, so really it will be 27 times in 29 years. Moving sucks. So why am I moving again? Because I have to. We don't exactly think this place is paradise (far from it), but we had hoped on staying until we could move onto our own land so we would never have to move again. Alas, the housing authority has to upgrade everything in order to change the way they are funded since their current funding is going away. They are switching from subsidized rents to Section 8, which is a program that provides housing vouchers for those who are eligible. There is lots of good news about this.
  • The HA is paying for all costs associated with the move, including movers. I have never had movers help before. This will be delightful.
  • The HA will help us find a place to go. Extra eyes scouring the For Rent ads will be useful, and I am sure the HA has connections to local landlords.
  • We can finally get out of the projects and not have to listen to "He-ey!" all day or threats of violence at 11:00 at night.
  • Occupancy laws require them to find us at least a 4 bedroom dwelling, "even if that means we have to put you in a house." Oh, twist my arm.
  • We can go anywhere within the HA's jurisdiction, which is a pretty generous area -- this entire county plus part of the neighboring county. I would like to get back to the towns near where we have family.
  • Moving in March will allow me to still have a garden since I won't have put a lot of work into a garden just to leave it behind when we move.
  • Did I mention we get movers for free?
The down side is that we do have to move again. They are remodeling one building at a time, moving everyone out of each building and trying to keep them as close as possible so as to disrupt lives as little as possible. There is no building-by-building timetable yet, but construction begins March 1. There are 220 households affected and we will all be switched to Section 8 at that time. I'm not waiting for them to get to my building. We will go in March so as to have a chance to settle in to our new place before starting in on the garden. Fortunately, homeschooling means there will be no disruption for the kids on that front. No changing of schools part way through the year.

I have five months to declutter. Five months to decide what we will keep and what will be gotten rid of. Even with movers helping (which would have been nice for either of the two moves we made while I was 7 months pregnant), I want to pack as little as possible. I have five months to imagine what our new place will be like. I have five months to mentally gear up for yet another move. I don't think I've ever had that long before.

21 October 2008

Bibliomania

My best bud posted this at her site, so i thought I would join in.
* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

"John and Barbara gurgled from their perambulator."

I had to hunt under the piles of papers threatening to fall off my desk to find a book. Turns out I had rescued a small pile of books from destruction by the boy (who turned 2 today). The books in the pile are Mary Poppins (on top) and two Hardy Boys books from when I was a kid, The Flickering Torch Mystery and The Mystery of Cabin Island.

What about you? Feel free to post it in the comments.

14 October 2008

Some thoughts on religion in our country

My brother-in-law forwarded this to me today. He often forwards me many posts about loving God and how we as a nation should embrace our love of God. I love my brother-in-law dearly, but usually these posts leave me saddened that others feel that they need to force their Godness on others, rather than speaking to the more universal aspects of Christianity. But this post was different. Instead of feeling battered about by a Bible, I felt a call for religious tolerance. Maybe that wasn't the point of the post, but it is what I came away with. I am not a Christian. I am a Unitarian Universalist, and the UU religion is based on support of diversity of beliefs. I personally feel most comfortable with Earth-based creeds, and the UU faith encourages me to follow that. I love my faith because I feel that it demands that we follow our religion and develop our spirituality, regardless of what specific doctrine and path to spirituality we choose. I think this post touches on that.

I wish that America could find a middle ground, one that allows everyone to feel welcome, be they fundamentalist Christian or devout Pagan or decidedly atheist. Our country was supposedly based on religious freedom (not really, the Puritans were anything but religiously tolerant), and yet we have become a bizarre mix of fundamental Christian and Atheist. There is a middle ground. Just because one person wants to do something doesn't mean they are going to try to force you to do the same. I do not believe prayer or Bibles (or any other religious trapping) should be required in school, but I also don't believe they should be banished from school either. I think prayer groups for students are fine, since anyone who wants to can go and if they don't want to, they don't have to. I am even fine with the school permitting use of their space for such a group and for other groups of differing religions.

Okay, on to the post from my brother-in-law:

Remarks from CBS Sunday Morning (everyone should read!)

I only hope we find God again before it is too late!!


image001.jpg

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning



Commentary.


My confession:


I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.


It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are sl ighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.


I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.


Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.


In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.


Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'


In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.


Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.


Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.


Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'


Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.


Are you laughing yet?


Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on



your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they



will think of you for sending it.


Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.


Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.




My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,



Ben Stein


03 October 2008

What I've been doing

It seems that it has been almost a month since I last posted. Shame on me. So what have I been doing? Well, we have been finishing up the garden. We got about 10 carrots, the longest of which was about 3-4", a dozen or so good sized potatoes (which is remarkable, since I never hoed them or did anything else with them), a handful of tomatoes, a boatload of cherry tomatoes (which we don't eat and I would have bought a different type of tomato if I had realized that one was a cherry tomato), a few peas, several cucumbers, several blossoms of broccoli and cauliflower, some lettuce and lots of lettuce seeds, a strawberry or two in the few days after we brought them home, some tiny onions, and a couple of radishes that never got big enough to even be a single bite. We are still waiting on the beans that I planted very late. The beans are growing nicely, but now I worry that they won't have time to dry properly before the season is over.

I learned some valuable lessons with this garden, though. First of all, I can actually grow something and not have it die as soon as it sprouts. That discouraged me for a long time. I learned that watermelon and pumpkin really do need sun rather than mostly shade. The potatoes did okay in the shade, producing a half dozen or so that were as big as my fist. We had nine potato plants. The "Atomic Red" carrots are really red and look neat. Tomatoes should definitely be caged, preferably with something other than a bent split cheap curtain rod. Trellises need to be securely planted in the ground for the peas and cucumbers so they don't continually fall over onto the peas and beans and squish them. Slugs really like strawberry plants. Inchworms really like broccoli and are nearly impossible to see there. It is a good thing I started working with the white cauliflower first and saw the green worm against the white flowers. Yuck. If I hoe the potatoes, I could probably get a lot more potato from each plant. Fences would have been nice so as not to lose baby plants to 3-year-old neighbors stepping on them to reach the first bright red cherry tomato or to 5-year-old neighbors playing lawnmower with a stick. I can really put a lot of stuff in a small space using the square foot method, but I really should do it right and not try to fudge it by eyeballing distances. My "feet" turned out to be closer to 14-15" rather than 12", thus requiring a bit more weeding. I already have nest year's garden planned out, and it will be roughly twice as big as this year's.

In addition to the garden, the school year has started up. Moira has done a block of mathematics and is now starting a block on farming, while Lauren started with a block on form drawing and is now beginning her letters. Oh, and we did a week on nature as well at the equinox. One day that week we harvested elderberries from a tree in the park nearby and made elderberry syrup for coughs and colds this winter. The people on the internet lie. Whoever would put elderberry syrup into yogurt is masochistic. The stuff tastes like Robitussin, which I suppose is appropriate. Ick. Even with extra sugar to try to make it more palatable. Now it tastes like a very sweet bitter flavor. Moira agreed that it did work for her the one time she took it, and is amenable to taking it again if she gets to hacking her lungs out again.

And finally, knitting. My order of yarn came in from Knitpicks.com and now I am slowly but surely working on Christmas presents. Since I know they will never read this blog, I will telly ou what I am making. For hubby and Eirik, I am making earflap hats (scroll way down to #37). For Cait I am making Pixie slippers since she is the only one in the house now without warm woollen slippers. I saw her Shrek slipper today but I don't know where the other one is, unless the one Rowan was using as a treasure holder is the other one and not the one I saw today. Moira is getting a lace cowl, Lauren is getting tights (no pattern or picture, but I am using this yarn, color Princess Multi), and Rowan is getting bloomers. My goal is to have them all done by December 1 so I don't get overwhelmed in December. We will see how that goes.

So that is what I have been doing other than worrying about the economy, the election, and all the other normal everyday worrying that everyone else is doing.

09 September 2008

Showing off my knitting and the kids

I finally decided to show off my work on Ravelry. I still have more stuff to photograph and put up, mostly mittens and hats, but I got all the slippers and recent stuff put up. If you don't have a Ravelry account and do a lot of knitting or crochet, I recommend the site. It is a lot of fun. My username is Segwyne (big surprise there, huh?). The pictures are also up on Flickr, for those of you who don't do Ravelry.

And here are a couple of the kids:This is the first carrot we have pulled from the garden. It is shaped more like a radish.

The girls are doing a craft they got at their Girl Scout meeting last night.

Eirik is taking off his slippers after I photographed them for Ravelry.

What a handsome devil!

24 August 2008

I can do it!

This has been quite a year for growth for me. I have learned that I am capable of so many things I never thought I could do. I have planted a garden, actually harvested food from it, made jam, tried my hand at water bath canning, and today I even scheduled the upcoming school year. I am still working out in my own mind why I think myself so inept. I have always had a terribly low self-esteem, and I am not completely sure why. Perhaps because I have always lived my life as an outsider. Perhaps because I am naturally a pleaser. I don't know. I have lived a pretty bizarre life by most standards, so people often have trouble relating to me and my experiences, and I to theirs. But I will try not to dwell on the wherefores for long. Ultimately, they are proving irrelevant.

I just noticed this newly found self-confidence today. Public school starts tomorrow and of course we homeschool. So Caitie has gone back to her dad's for the year, and Moira and Lauren have both started asking about starting lessons. My history with providing lessons is spotty, at best. The first year I took Moira out of public school, no reporting was required since Kindergarten is not mandatory here. The next year, I had to submit a curriculum with my letter of intent, but I wanted to "unschool", and use no formal lessons. I came up with ways that her learning might take place over the next several months and qualified my submission with the statement, "We reserve the right to adjust this curriculum as needed to best meet the needs and interests of our child." I worried all year that I didn't do enough, teach enough, show enough to her. In December, I had gotten myself so worked up that I found a curriculum that I liked and bought it. We started the lessons in January, which complicated things. I decided to just do what we could and then we could finish the rest of it the next year. Then when I was filling out the evaluation paperwork at the end of the year, I read through the sample and saw that I had done plenty. My one-page paper was nearly two pages long so I had to edit it down.

The next year, we started again with the curriculum pretty much where we left off, but by now we didn't have enough to finish the year. I did well with giving lessons regularly until we ran out in December. The rest of the year ended up being mostly unschooling. I was feeling better about it though after having gone through it all once and passing. I think that is a significant statement. I have been viewing homeschooling as a test for me to prove I am good enough to teach my child, instead of viewing it as educating my child and to hell with the system, which has enough faults of its own. She did fine at her year end evaluation, even with no formal lessons after early December.

Today (homeschooling year 3.25), after the girls asking if they could learn Spanish (a language I studied in high school and college, but haven't really used in 12 years or so) and if we could start lessons tomorrow, I sat down to schedule and coordinate their lessons. I picked up the curriculum overview (which I had actually not read since I bought it two years ago, instead diving straight into the syllabus) and read up on grade 3. Lauren will be doing 1st grade this year, and I think I will repeat it again next year so that she is on track with the lesson content. If she struggles with 1st grade this year, I will repeat her Kindy year, or maybe I will combine them together and stretch out 1st grade for her. When I looked at my chart and lessons and planned projects (not too many, I was realistic), and field trips (I may have planned a bit too much financially, we will see), I looked at it and felt confident. I can do this. It isn't going to be terribly difficult. The hardest part will not be the lessons themselves (which I have feared in previous years), but maintaining the discipline to do them every week, establishing the household rhythm that lends itself to learning. Finding the link for the curriculum showed me that the author actually did what she swore she wouldn't do - write syllabi for grades beyond first. My first thought was, "Whew! I can get a syllabus and know I am doing it right." Then I thought, "No, I don't need someone to tell me lesson by lesson. I just read up the overview and I can do this myself. I don't need to spend all that money."

That is what I have been feeling all summer about various different projects - I can do this! And I daresay, you can too, if you want to.

19 August 2008

Fun in the Kitchen

I have been busy in the kitchen these last two days. On Sunday, I attacked my kitchen to-do list. I made laundry soap, sausage seasoning, sauerkraut, ground some rye into flour and started a sourdough starter.

Then yesterday I made some plum jam with my mom. I had picked half a bucket of plums from a generous neighbor and wanted to try my and at canning. My mom had never canned either, so we found a recipe here. It is a highly detailed recipe. I think the most precise measurement on it says to use equal parts plums and sugar. Of course, it forgets to tell you to sieve the puree (who wants pits in their jam?). Using this recipe and Sharon's instructions on water bath canning, we got some yummy jam. It took us a while, and since we didn't have anything useful like a jar lifter or a funnel, we made a big mess. The jam kept spitting out at us as it boiled while we tried to get it up to the 220° jelly mark on my candy thermometer. We gave up at 215° and said, "Well, if it is runny, so be it." It gelled up beautifully, though. The hardest part was getting the processed jars out of the boilng water. Since we had no jar lifter, I used regular tongs to pull the empty jars out after sterilization, but they weren't strong enough to lift the filled jars (and I couldn't stick one side of the tongs into the jar and lif tthem up sideways, either). We made four jars, and the first three I lifted out using two wooden spoons pressed tightly around the rims. The last jar I just reached in with my already wet hot mitts and grabbed it out.They sealed almost instantly, so I think we managed okay.

Last night before going to bed, I had more plum puree that I wanted to make into fruit leather. Of course, I had no parchment paper or plastic wrap or wax paper, so I looked in my food drying book. It suggested using brown gift wrap. I don't think I have ever seen brown gift wrap, so I was trying to decide between cutting open a paper bag and using wrapping paper. I decided the wrappig paper was more slippery, so I used that. I spread out my puree and slid my three trays into the dehydrator and went to bed. This morning, only one tray had dried, the other two had started to dry around the edges only. Of course, now I can't get the paper off the leather. I got out a cookie sheet and spread the undried puree from the other two trays on it and stuck it in the oven with the pilot light on. I plan to make bread later today, so perhaps the leather will dry better then. If I had been fully awake when I pulled out the cookie sheet, I would have greased it with either butter or more likely coconut oil. Oh well. I still have more plums.

Moira wants to make a plum pie today. I am ready to get rid of the ever-present fruit flies. The plums aren't even very old, but if one leaks at all, the flies are there. I also found some cherries I had brought home last week in my fridge, so maybe today I will try making some cherry jam.

15 August 2008

Birthday socks that don't fit

When we went to Panteria in May, Cait saw some striped knee-high socks she wanted. Unfortunately, we had spent the last of our money (and then some due to miscalculating on my part), but I mentioned she had a birthday coming up. She said she would like some in pink and army green. So I bought the yarn for these socks and attempted to get an entire pair of knee high socks knitted in secret in 2 weeks. I got one done and gave it to her on her birthday, promising to get the second one done as soon as I took a breather. She tried on the sock and the foot fit fine, but I had added too much for her calf (she doesn't exactly have curvy legs, my little bean pole) so it kept sliding down her leg. I made the second one up with this in mind. When it came off the needles, she tried it on and loved the fit. So I ripped the leg down on the first one and re-knit it to match the second one. I finished the first one again and told her to get the second one so we could see how they looked together. But she had washed the second one, so it shrank. My lesson: Only use sock yarn for socks. She finally pulled it on and of course the first one now fit well but was bigger than the second one. I suggested she wash the first so they would both be shrunk the same and we would see how hard it would be for her to wear them. Getting one sock on after that was a 5 minute ordeal. Sadly, we had Lauren try them on, and they fit Laurne like a charm. I only used half of the yarn I bought for the socks, so I have two choices: I can either knit them up again, but larger to allow for shrinking, or I can buy new sock yarn and knit them in the same size, and find some other project for the Knit Picks Pallette yarn. The colors are Petal and Clover. Christmas is coming up and I want to start knitting on all those projects so I have a hope of getting them done on time, but I want to replace Cait's sock, since that means she now has no birthday present.

Another letter to my Congressman

Even though my Congressman doesn't seem to read my emails, I am not giving up. I have written a new one with a practical band-aid solution for him to consider. If you would like to copy this and send it to your Senator or Congressman, please feel free.

Dear Mr. Hodes,

I am writing to you today to suggest a simple way to help folks control their heating costs this winter. My idea is to replace current thermostats with ones whose range is 40-70 instead of 55-90. It would be like the revision of speedometers in the 70s. If we include education on the benefits of wearing layered clothing and keeping our thermostats lower, we can reduce the amount of fuel needed to keep people warm this winter. A lower highest temperature will also help prevent accidental adjustments to high temperatures. Bumping the thermostat or a child's playing with one will no longer be able to turn one's home into a tropical jungle at 90 degrees. I would like to see Congress provide incentives to companies to make these low-range thermostats and encourage homeowners to install them.

Since the technology already exists, there should be no expensive retrofitting required for their manufacture, and most homeowners are competent enough to replace a simple thermostat, and if they are not, it is a simple matter for their energy company to do so.

Thank you for reading my idea.

Sincerely,
Judy Anderson

01 August 2008

Dinner will be served at the sound of the smoke alarm

Yes, it happened. Or it would have if it hadn't happened so many times before. I was making a new recipe, Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce, from Nourishing Traditions and I set the oven on fire. Yes, literally, the oven itself was on fire. The recipe called for broiling the chicken, which I did. I apparently need to clean my oven though, because I noticed smoke pouring out of the burner that is over the vent. I opened up the door and saw flames licking the ceiling of the oven. I pulled out the chicken and turned off the oven, but the oven continued to burn. I couldn't really throw anything like baking soda or flour onto it because it was on the ceiling not the floor, and gravity would have asserted itself. So I waited for it to burn itself out, then stuck the chicken in again to finish broiling. It couldn't reignite since its fuel was all gone, so I figured it was safe. However, the smoke alarm did not actually go off. The house was thick with smoke, but I had unhooked the smoke alarm some time back. I decided to do that when it went off the day after I cleaned the oven. The oven was sparkling clean and still it smoked up and sent off the smoke alarm. Maintenance laughed at me and said I should keep a better eye on my food. But my food was fine and the oven was clean, so I just disconnected the downstairs smoke alarm. The upstairs one is still on. Later in the evening when I was taking the laundry off the line, I heard another smoke alarm going off. I was glad I wasn't the only one. I think I need to clean the oven now. The dish came out well in the end and was quite good.

In other news, we have expanded the garden. We reclaimed 10 square feet from the weeds (which were tall enough to obscure the children when they lay down) and planted more food and some flowers. We each planted 2 square feet. Cait and Lauren each planted nothing but marigolds, I planted beans, Moira planted cilantro and radishes, and Rowan planted beans and lettuce. Half of my lettuce has bolted, so now I get to figure out how to save those seeds. My peas, cucumbers and tomatoes are all fruiting. I have two each broccoli and cauliflower starting. My potatoes flowered and were lovely, I'm not sure what is going on with my onion, though. The strawberries are spreading like crazy, and I think it might have been a bad idea to plant them in the middle of my plot where I did. My watermelon plant finally has 3-4 true leaves, but isn't exactly thriving.

Oh, and a tree decided to land a mere foot from my garden, a big tree, no less. It took several days before maintenance came and cleared the fallen tree away, and they took down a half-dead tree as well. They let me have a bunch of the smaller diameter wood when I asked for it. I asked for the whole tree actually, saying I would have my mom bring over my dad's old maul so we could split it, but the chainsaw guy took it himself to burn in his own woodstove this winter. Fair enough, since I have electric heat anyway. But at least I know have "just in case" firewood to burn in our "just in case" woodstove. You know, just in case. Can't you just picture it? In the middle of some blizzard when the power has been out for a few hours, all we need do is pull the tarp off of the stove, tip it upright (it is currently on its side for some unknown reason), make sure the empty stovepipe outlet is not pointed toward the wooden patio fence, and fire it up. We can sit around the stove outside on the patio, drinking cocoa, cooking our dinner and keeping warm as the blizzard rages around us and we get all wet because instead of snowing on us, it is now raining on us since the snowflakes melt as they get near the stove. Everyone else will be shivering inside while we stay toasty outside in the blizzard. C'mon, it'll be fun! No? Well, it does conjure up a funny image.

What the kids have been up to lately

What a week it has been. Jenny asked for an update on the kids, so I will start there.

Cait has turned 12 (OMG!) and has taken up jewelry making with beads. She would like to sell some stuff on Etsy and is saving money to get all the tools she needs to do it right. She is also blossoming into a young woman, and has discovered her own bioweapon - BO. Whew! I commented to her the other day that she was a bit ripe and we should pick out a deodorant for her when we went grocery shopping. Her response? She took her baby brother's hand and rubbed it in her pits and said, "See, Mom? He's the one who is stinky!" What a ham! He, of course, thought it was funny.

Moira has spent this last week at Girl Scout Camp, in a program called Chocolate Chef. She sent us a lovely (short) letter mid-week. It read, "Dear Mom and Dad and Girls, How are you? I have 2 3 4 5 friends. Do you miss me? Love, Moira." It was so sweet.

Lauren has gotten comfortable enough in the water this year that she now swims out deeper than she can touch and does not panic. I am so proud of her! This time last year we had a hard time just getting her into the water instead of playing up on the shore.

Rowan will now go up to her chin in the water, but is not yet swimming. She also has her first loose tooth. I think she is the same age Lauren was with her first lost tooth, but 4½ still seems so young to me.

Eirik is still not talking any more than Mama and Dada and No. He is happy to walk out up to his neck into the water and no longer clings to me with a death grip when we go out to my chest height. He also ripped the refrigerator lock off so he can now freely open the fridge. I also discovered that he can open the back door and unlatch the patio gate. So now I need to get another padlock so he doesn't run off.

The kids are all doing quite well. Lauren is looking forward to lessons starting up in September. Cait has mixed feelings. She shocked me a couple weeks ago. She asked if she could still live with us even when she was grown and had a family of her own. We told her yes, she will always be welcome in our house, though we suspect she will want her own space by then. We decided we will have to build her a house next to ours when that time comes. Of course, that means we have to find some land and a house for ourselves first.

I read Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer as part of Sharon's Post-Apocalyptic Book Club. It is written in diary format from the POV of a 16-year-old girl. It was a great read, and when I was done, I suggested that Cait read it, which she did. She says she enjoyed the book, proven by the fact that she spent probably 6 hours a day reading it.

Moira has been reading anything she can get her hands on. A lot of Secrets of Droon, the Sisters Grimm, etc. She even began The Fellowship of the Ring, but I think it was a bit too much for her because it is now back on the shelf.

So that is what they have been up to lately. Enjoying the summer, nearly daily swimming (at least when it isn't thundering) and playing with the kittens (named Mini and Salem) who are now 3½ months old.

27 July 2008

Civilization

I'm trying to post a video I saw. Let's see if this works.



I hope you enjoy it. Requested updates on the kids coming soon.

14 July 2008

Identity Crisis

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been having a terrible identity crisis. I can't decide if I want to blog about parenting, knitting, activism, or what. I have mostly been blogging just about what happens to inspire a post. It probably doesn't help that I read such varied blogs on a regular basis. The only blog type I read regularly that hasn't influenced this blog has been comics. Be very thankful of that. :)

I don't blog often enough to separate the content into multiple blogs, so I suppose I will have to figure out some other way of organizing the content. Or maybe a multi-purpose blog isn't so bad after all. Any thoughts?

Monkey update

Well, I made a huge mistake and washed Monkey after Eirik smeared chocolate all over his head. I had originally stuffed him with woollen and linen fabric scraps. This was for a few reasons: 1) it used up the fabric scraps so I didn't have to just throw them in the trash; 2) it gave Monkey a bit more weight; 3) I didn't think I had enough polyester fiberfil to stuff him. So I put Monkey in the washing machine and then in the dryer since I knew he would never dry satisfactorily on the clohtesline with all that fabric inside him. I learned that that particular yarn felts up beautifully -- if you want to felt something. That means it shrinks, too. It also shrinks around the stuffing, so parts that had more stuffing didn't shrink as much as parts that had less stuffing. Originally his mouth and his butt were the same size. Now he has a teeny butt and still has a big mouth. Not only did Monkey shrink and felt up, he also didn't dry as well as I had thought. A week later I was trying to identify the festering laundry smell near Eirik's pillow. I finally realized it was Monkey. I took a pair of scissors to Monkey, but I stuffed him as I knitted him, so I have to unstuff him through several incisions. The good part is he won't unravel due to the felting. The bad part is I have to work the stuffing out through much smaller holes. I cut open his crotch (I figured that was the most logical place to start since that is where the stuffing when in, and it was quite the enterprise to pull the packed stuffing out of his feet and up through the shrunken legs and out the crotch. Of course, I had to make some rude comments about it to Caitie who was watching to make her laugh. That was some stinky fabric that came out, and it still wasn't dry! I still have to cut open his armpits, tail, mouth and ears. Then I will see if I can salvage Monkey. If not, I will have to make a new Monkey since Eirik likes him so much.

03 July 2008

Response from my Congressman

I heard back from my Congressman today regarding the letter I wrote to him (see here). Here is his response, and my return reply is below that. Let's see if I get another canned response or if this one actually gets read.

Dear Mrs. Anderson,

Thank you for contacting me about the rising cost of fuel. I truly appreciate hearing from you, and I am working hard to stand up for New Hampshire 's interests in Congress.

I understand how important affordable fuel is to you personally. Oil companies are reporting record profits while New Hampshire families are struggling to deal with rising gas and heating oil prices. I am working in Congress to find both immediate and long-term solutions to this problem.

One major cause of rising oil prices is unregulated speculation in the oil market. I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 6334, the Increasing Transparency and Accountability in Oil Prices Act. This legislation would stop excessive speculation in the petroleum markets by closing loopholes that drive up energy prices. Energy analysts recently testified before Congress that if excessive speculation was limited, gas prices could drop to as low as $2 per gallon. H.R. 6334 has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture.

To help lower the cost of fuel, it is also critical that we increase our domestic energy supply. There are currently 68 million acres of federal lands that have been leased to oil companies but have not yet been drilled, limiting supply and driving up fuel prices for New Hampshire families.

I am an original co-sponsor of H.R. 6251, the Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act, which provides a common sense solution to this problem. This bill prohibits oil companies from receiving new leases unless they have demonstrated diligent efforts to develop the lands they currently own for the production of oil or natural gas. On June 26, 2008, I voted for H.R. 6251, which, unfortunately, did not pass in the House of Representatives. I will continue to fight for sustainable energy policies and encourage responsible drilling on federal lands.

The House also recently passed legislation to encourage new, affordable energy sources. I am an original cosponsor of H.R. 6049, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. The bill extends existing tax credits for the production of renewable energy sources, as well as credits that will make it easier for families power their homes with less expensive energy sources. Greater production and consumption of these new energy sources will reduce demand of fossil fuels and lower prices. On May 21, 2008 H.R. 6049 passed the House by a vote of 263 to 160 and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

While curbing our dependence on foreign oil is critical, drilling in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off our coasts will take as long as ten years to increase in our oil supply, and will not bring immediate relief to our skyrocketing fuel costs. Through development of new technologies and renewable energy, the United States can achieve energy independence and lower energy prices even more quickly than by threatening our public health by drilling for non-renewable energy sources. Please know that I will keep your views in mind as I continue to work for lower fuel costs for New Hampshire citizens.

I encourage you to continue to contact me about the issues that are important to you. Please visit our website www.hodes.house.gov where you can also sign up for my electronic newsletter and receive periodic updates on my activities as your Representative in Washington .

Sincerely,

Paul Hodes

Member of Congress


And my response back:

Dear Mr. Hodes,

I can see that you did not fully understand my original letter or did not read it in its entirety. I do not want you to find ways of keeping gas prices down. On the contrary, gas and oil prices should keep rising so that we will use less and less of them. My desire is for you to help enable us as citizens of New Hampshire and as citizens of the United States to reduce our dependence on ALL oil. Encourage the rail system to be re-established, improve interstate bus systems, encourage re-localization of all parts of the economy. Stop importing everything from China and Taiwan. Only then can we truly be free of the tyrannical rule of oil.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Judith Anderson

23 June 2008

Monkey pictures

See pattern here.
See story here.







Here are the long-awaited monkey photos.

22 June 2008

Sockless Monkey Pattern

Sockless Monkey

See story here.
See pictures here.

Please Note: The yarn I used for the pattern did not wash so well. Poor monkey is now fat and *very* short.

Materials:
Worsted weight tweedy grey yarn (Dalegarn Heilo 0007) – 100 g
Worsted weight cream yarn (Daledgarn Heilo 0020) – 50 g
Worsted weight red yarn – 2 yards scrap (I had some Lopi leftover from another project, colorway # unknown)
Size 4 dpns (two sets if possible, though not necessary)
Stitch holders (if not two sets of dpns)
Slippery scrap yarn for crochet provisional cast on.
2 large buttons for eyes.
Yarn needle

Gauge: Not really relevant as long as it is relatively dense so the stuffing doesn’t poke out between stitches.

Abbreviations:
Dpns: double-pointed needles
CO: cast on
K: knit
Yf: yarn forward
Yb: yarn back
Slip 2 tog kwise: slip two stitches together knitwise
Psso: pass slipped stitches over

Legs:
CO 3 stitches in cream/white.
Knit front and back of each, dividing onto 3 dpns (6 stitches total)
Knit front and back of each stitch (4 per needle)
Knit front and back of each stitch (8 per needle, 24 total)
Knit 35 rows, switch to grey yarn and knit 40 more rows.
Transfer first leg onto stitch holders or scrap yarn if you have only one set of dpns.
Repeat for 2nd leg.

Body:
Leaving Leg 2 still on the needles, knit one round.
CO 3 stitches (27 total)
Knit all stitches of Leg 1
CO 3 stitches (54 total)
Knit 2 more rounds.

Bum:
Re-distribute stitches so that half of each leg is on one needle, and the other half of each leg is on the other two needles. Leave the half on two needles be, you will be working the half on one needle. This helps avoid a ladder up the center of the bum. Unless of course you wish to define the cheeks.
Using cream yarn, knit 27 stitches, yf, slip one stitch, yb, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Purl 26 stitches, yb, slip one stitch, yf, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Knit 25 stitches, yf, slip one stitch, yb, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Purl 24 stitches, yb, slip one stitch, yf, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Knit 23 stitches, yf, slip one stitch, yb, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Purl 22 stitches, yb, slip one stitch, yf, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Knit 21 stitches, yf, slip one stitch, yb, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Purl 20 stitches, yb, slip one stitch, yf, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Knit 19 stitches, yf, slip one stitch, yb, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Purl 20 stitches, yb, slip one stitch, yf, slip stitch back onto left needle, turn.
Knit 18, turn.
Purl 19, turn.
Knit 20, turn.
Purl 21, turn.
Knit 22, turn.
Purl 23, turn.
Knit 24, turn.
Purl 25, turn.
Knit 26, turn.
Purl 27, turn.

Body resumed:
Using grey, knit 50 rounds.
Using cream, knit 1 round.
K25, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 25, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K23, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 23, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K21, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 21, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K19, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 19, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K17, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 17, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K15, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 15, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K13, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 13, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.
K11, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso, k 11, slip 2 tog knitwise, knit 1, psso.

Transfer stitches evenly to two needles, with each ending with the double decrease.
Using Kitchener stitch, graft ends together.

If my instructions have been clear enough to follow, You will have a shape that looks like a sock with the ankle and cuff divided into two legs. Stuff the monkey from his crotch, then seam it.

Arms:
Make the arms exactly as you did for the legs, but when you get to the 40th grey row, bind off. Stuff, and sew to side of monkey about half way along “foot” part.

Tail:
Using cream yarn, co 3 stitches.
Knit front and back of each, dividing evenly onto 3 dpns. (6 stitches total)
Knit front and back of each stitch (12 stitches total)
Knit 10 rounds.
Switch to grey and knit 50 more rounds.
Bind off.
Stuff if desired (I stuffed it as I knit it - every 10 rows or so I pushed some stuffing in there to just below my needles where it wouldn’t interfere with my knitting.)
Stitch to top of bum, centering it as well as possible.

Face:
Using a provisional cast on (I used crochet) and cream yarn, co 27 stitches.
Knit exactly the same as the bum.
Unpick the provisional cast on and transfer onto needles so you can work in the round.
Using grey, knit 1 round.
Using kitchener stitch, graft the mouth onto the face, with the bottom of the mouth about even with the top of the arms. Remember that this should be roundish.
Just before you finish grafting, stuff the mouth.
Finish grafting.
Using red, duplicate stitch a lip line across the mouth almost from corner to corner. I had only red yarn that was much bulkier than the rest of the monkey, so my duplicate stitch goes over two stitches at a time so as not to stretch out his mouth.
Stitch two large matching buttons on for eyes
Ears:
Using grey, CO 30 stitches, dividing evenly onto 3 dpns.
Knit 3 rounds.
Knit 12, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso, knit 12, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso.
Knit 10, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso, knit 10, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso.
Knit 8, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso, knit 8, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso.
Knit 6, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso, knit 6, slip 2 tog kwise, k1, psso.
Transfer stitches evenly to two needles, with each ending with the double decrease.
Using Kitchener stitch, graft ends together.
Stitch ears to sides of head above arms, just below the white part of the head.


It may be easier to bind off the mouth after the one grey round and just sew the mouth on, but I wanted to make it look as seamless as possible. I grafted my arms and tail onto the body, too. Unfortunately, it was my very first foray into grafting, so my monkey has obvious armpits if you lift his arms. With his arms down, his shoulders look seamless. Next time, I will graft the tops and bottoms of the arms separately

19 June 2008

Sockless Sock Monkey

See pattern here.
See pictures here.

I have finished knitting a sockless sock monkey for my son. I had to make up a pattern as I went, because all the instructions and patterns I found involved cutting and sewing an existing pair of socks (hence the name sock monkey). I didn't have any of the "right" kind of socks, but I had bought some lovely wool yarn with which to knit the monkey. Also, I didn't want to knit up a pair of socks just to cut and sew them. Too wasteful for me. So I started knitting and tried to make my monkey at least resemble the appearance of the proper style of sock. I read up on the differences between the authentic vintage sock style and the more modern one using an updated version of the same sock. I studied the cutting pattern so as to most closely simulate the proper seams. I also tried to size the "socks" to something a little bigger than my foot, but not as big as my husband's, the monkey would be approximately the same size as a cut-and-sewn monkey.

It took me about two weeks of knitting. I knit in the playground while I pushed the boy on a swing, while standing in the kitchen waiting to flip pancakes, or just sitting at the table to get it done. The hardest part for me, strangely enough, was the ears. I got the legs and body knitted up, and the girls stuffed it with woollen fabric scraps. I knitted up the arms and tail, stuffed them with more woollen fabric scraps, and attached them. I knitted up the mouth and finally liked how it looked on the fourth (or maybe fifth) time I stitched it on. I kept stitching it assymetrically, and I am a stickler for symmetry. Then I knitted up the ears and stitched them on. And I had a cat instead of a monkey.

It took me probably half an hour to figure out why I had a cat instead of a monkey. See, I had done something strange with the top of the head, (which would have been the toe of the sock) and used adjacent paired single decreases instead of a single double decrease to shape the toe and I ended up with ladders between the pairs. I had then knitted ears just the right size to cover up those ladders, and of course, putting smallish ears on the top of the head gave me a cat instead of a monkey. Once I realized my mistake, I knitted up new, bigger ears, but then I had to figure out what to do about the unsightly ladders. So, after having stitched on the eyes by sewing in from the back of the head and anchoring my thread knots in the fabric stuffing deep inside the head, I frogged the whole top of the head, snipping the monkey's stitched on eyelashes as I went. I had to set it down to put Eirik down for a nap, and when I came back downstairs, Moira asked me if I was doing brain surgery on the monkey. I said I supposed I was, and gently picked up all my stitches onto my needles again and started the toe-top all over, this time using one double decrease on each side of the head. The result was a much better looking head. I stitched the ears to the side of his head, and voila, I had a monkey.

I gave the monkey to my little punkmonkey son and we went out to the swing. He had much fun throwing the monkey on the ground while swinging and making me rescue him. He then would coddle the monkey for a few moments before throwing him down again. Finally, at one point I picked the monkey up off the ground and put him in the next swing over, which was empty. He left it there. We got down and went and played at the slide where Monkey was hurtled headlong down the slide. Eirik and Monkey returned to the swing where the coddle/rescue cycle began again. This time, Rowan was swinging right nest to him, so I put Monkey next to her. This time, he climbed down out of the swing and walked right under Rowan to get Monkey back. She was on her back swing and he got kicked in the head and went sprawling on the woodchips. Poor guy. Being only 20 months old, he was resilient and was soon playing Throw the Monkey again. He seems to really like it, which makes me very happy. There is little that is more disappointing than spending so much time and effort on an unappreciated gift.

I will try to post some pictures here if I can get my camera to work. I suppose I should also try writing out the pattern, too.

15 June 2008

100 Item Challenge

There is a challenge to pare one’s belongings down to 100 items total. I did this once some time ago and the paper I am copying this list from has 58 items on it. I have added some things on here that I didn’t think of then, and separated some things that I think now should be listed separately. I am unsure if this means per person or per household, so I am going to combine the two. I am going to list items by type with no duplicates within the type unless so noted. So for instance, I list my sewing kit, which includes measuring tape, needles, pins, scissors, etc. But I only need one measuring tape, one pair of scissors, and so on. I do not include consumables. So here is my list.

Kitchen

  1. my pots/pans
  2. extra stockpot
  3. baking sheets and pans
  4. measuring cups and spoons
  5. 2-3 assorted mixing bowls
  6. 1 place setting per person (cup, plate, bowl, silverware)
  7. cutting board
  8. 2-3 wooden spoons
  9. ladle
  10. large fork
  11. chef knife
  12. paring knife
  13. bread knife
  14. sharpening stone
  15. spatula
  16. pitcher
  17. 2 wash basins (one to wash, one to rinse)
  18. can opener
  19. scissors/shears
  20. coffee filters and holder (for straining debris out of collected water)
  21. portable fire pit (if not in a house or for summer cooking)
  22. grill brush
  23. case of matches or flint
  24. 3-4 cookbooks (just the ones I already own and use on a daily basis)
  25. gardening book
  26. foraging book
  27. 5-6 dozen assorted canning jars (probably would need more if I can all our harvest)
  28. brewing supplies
  29. teapot
  30. wood cookstove (if in a house)

Bath

  1. 4-5 dozen washcloths (they also currently double as our TP)
  2. 1 Towel per person
  3. comb/brush
  4. hair ties for each
  5. razor
  6. toothbrush for each
  7. non-toxic cleaning kit (includes 2-3 spray bottles, washing soda, borax, etc.)
  8. 5-7 cleaning rags
  9. wash tub
  10. plunger
  11. wringer
  12. laundry basket
  13. cloth pads (there are/will be multiple women in the household)

Bedroom

  1. tents (if not in a house)
  2. sleeping bags, pillows
  3. 3 changes of clothes for each
  4. kids’ dolls (1 each)
  5. cold weather outer gear for each (coat, mittens, etc.)
  6. baby sling (at least until youngest is 3 years old)
  7. handkerchief per person

Outdoors

  1. axe
  2. saw
  3. hammer
  4. spade
  5. trowel
  6. bucket
  7. clothesline and pins
  8. field guides to plants and animals
  9. tote bags/backpacks for each
  10. utility knife
  11. hand crank flashlight
  12. bow and arrows
  13. fishing net
  14. skinning/tanning book
  15. maps, atlas, directions to loved ones’ homes

General

  1. Circle Round book
  2. 3-4 health books (just the ones I already have)
  3. family photo album
  4. some kind of lamp
  5. fire-safe with legal documents such as birth certs, etc.
  6. sewing kit
  7. string
  8. knitting needles, crochet hooks, and accessories (such as darning needle, cable needle, stitch holder, etc.)
  9. god and goddess statues
  10. Book of Wisdom (my own homemade book that contains this list among other things)
  11. knitting pattern books
  12. sewing patterns
  13. pleasure reading books
  14. spinning wheel
  15. loom (probably warp-weighted, since it takes up less space)

I could expand this out to 100 if I divided up things that I consider go together. I’m not listing my individual knitting needles, for example. But this is a great exercise to determine what exactly we truly need.

12 June 2008

Write to your Representatives

Here is the letter that I just sent to my Congressman. Feel free to copy it, personalize it, and send it off to your own representative.

Dear Mr. Hodes,

Ms. Shea-Porter recently sent out a survey to her constituents regarding energy prices and I wished to address this issue with you as one of your constituents.

I understand that everyone is focusing on our need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but I think we are missing the point, which is that we should be reducing our dependence on all oil, foreign or domestic. Instead of pouring money into the bottomless pit of oil exploration and development, we should instead focus on helping people transition to a low-energy lifestyle, where the price of oil will be mostly irrelevant since we won't need it anymore. As I see it, trying to be more self-sufficient for our oil needs is like the drug addict who tries to produce their own drugs instead of seeking a rehabilitation center. Instead of more drilling, we need to create an oil-addiction rehabilitation system.

We can encourage people to save energy at night by going to bed earlier instead of sitting up watching 24-hour television. We can encourage people to purchase well-built American-made products that will last instead of cheap plastic from China that will break within a month of purchase. We need to rebuild a new, sustainable economy out of the ashes of this destructive one that is dying before our eyes. We need to allow the price of oil to rise to the point that everyone finds ways out of necessity to do without it.

Please don't waste our time and effort trying to keep our addictions fed. Instead, use our resources to help us make the inevitable transition so that we don't crash, so that we can learn the skills we will need now while we can still afford to make learning mistakes instead of when those mistakes mean the difference between life and death.

Respectfully yours,
Judith Anderson

10 June 2008

What is survival, anyway?

Dmitry Orlov said recently, "But the tragic thing is, to prepare for collapse, you have to start living as if it already happened, and very few people are willing to do that. They will wait until it is too late, and then expect somebody to come to their rescue." Sharon also has a challenge (that I am not fully participating in this time) that involves learning new skills, so I decided to add laundry 100% by hand to my list of skills. Don't get me wrong - I love my washing machine. With 5 children who love to get dirty, I do a lot of laundry. I have no intention of giving it up any sooner than I have to, especially since water and electricity are included in my rent. Drying by hand is a cinch - a clothesline outside in nice weather, an empty closet left ajar, several hangers and a box fan in the house in wet weather and that's all there is to it. But actually getting the clothes clean is another matter.

I have some minor prior experience. Six years ago when Lauren was a baby, we got our first set of cloth diapers. We lived in an apartment and had no washing facilities, normally doing our laundry at the laundromat down the road. We had a total of 24 diapers; enough for 2 days, not enough to justify a washer load at the laundromat. So every night after I put the kids to bed (after working a 10-hour workday a 45-minute commute from home), I plunked all the wet and dirty diapers in the tub and washed them by hand. I had no washboard, and didn't know how helpful a plunger could be. I just swished the wet diapers in the tub first, and wrung them out by hand. Then I washed the dirty ones in order from least poopy to most poopy. She was exclusively breastfed, so the poop wasn't too bad to deal with those first few months. I took a handful of diaper on each side and just rubbed them together until they came clean. Then I wrung them out by hand. We had no clothesline then, so the clean diapers were draped over the shower curtain rod (it went all the way around) until we got a clotheshorse. Altogether, the process took me about an hour each day. For eight to ten flat diapers.

So as I was thinking about how life will be without electricity, I realized that meant no washing machine. Laundry for 7 people was going to take me about 30 hours each day, then I still had to cook, do other cleaning, garden, and try to squeeze in a little shut-eye, too. Yikes! I gave thanks to the gods for my washing machine and tried to never think about laundry again. Then I learned about using a plunger to do the agitating. Whew! What a relief. So now I am on the hunt for a clothes wringer, since that really will probably be the most time-consuming aspect.

I began to call local hardware stores, but that isn't an item that is kept on hand. It can be special ordered for me, or I can order online. I checked Lehmans, but wanted to find something a little lower-priced. Ebay had lots of them for sale, but they all praised the aesthetics, with no mention of functionality. I don't care what it looks like, does it work? Then I remembered that LATOC has a preparedness store. No laundry solutions, though. That got me to reflecting on other people's idea of "survival". Yes, hunting knives and food stocks are very important. There are several items for creating electricity, but nothing to get you clean. How close to an animal are you going to when hunting it with your knife if you are wearing clothes saturated with sweat and blood? Maybe it is the difference between men and women. I want to be fed, clothed, sheltered, AND clean. Is that really too much to ask?

Toilet Paper on the Clothesline

This past winter, we decided to finally get rid of the toilet paper. My husband has, over time, brought home over 100 washcloths from work where he uses them to mop his brow. At one point I counted nearly 200, some of which I promptly gave away. So now I put a small stack of washcloths on the toilet tank behind the seat and we use those as our TP. I keep a bucket in the downstairs bathroom, and the washing machine is immediately outside the door to the upstairs bathroom. I can't put more than a few in each bathroom at a time or else the boy will take the whole stack and dip it in the toilet, which gets flushed every two or three uses.

So the other day I was hanging the laundry out to dry and realized that up to 1/4 of my clothesline space was used for drying toilet paper. How many other folks hang up their toilet paper to dry? Not many. I did notice that more of my neighbors are starting to use their clotheslines, though. Every apartment here has three lines run from the house across the patio, to the fence on the far side. They weren't ideally placed however, and the lines for my building are on the south side of the patio, right up against the fence. This means very little sun. On dry days at this time of year, though, I can still hang two sets of clothes, sometimes even three. I can fit anywhere from half a washerload to a full washerload at a time if I push things close together. If it is just adult clothes and/or towels, I can fit the whole load. If it is mostly kids clothes and/or washcloths, I can only fit half the load.

It is nice to know that we use almost no paper products now except paper to write on. We have an abundance of towels and washcloths that get used for everything that most people use paper for. I made up some nice muslin napkins for the table, and I haven't had a roll of paper towels in the house for over a year. Now to get rid of the last of the plastic. I still use ziplock bags for dividing up larger purchases into more manageable sizes, and gladware for leftovers.

09 June 2008

Another Year

It looks like it will be a year before we can get out own place. We met with Habitat for Humanity and they say we qualify for their help. The problem is that they are busy through the end of this building season, so won't be able to start anything new until next spring. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that the farmland will still be available then. I have noticed that many large land properties are staying on the market for quite some time. One we have been watching has been on the market for nearly 1½ years, I think.

I got a garden planted this year finally. The maintenance guys rototilled a nice big patch out back for us. I have 4 tomatoes, 2 peppers, 4 broccoli, 4 cauliflower, 2 cucumbers, 8 peas, 16 carrots, 3 strawberries (one of which sent out a runner that has developed roots), 2 onions, 9 potatoes, 1 pumpkin and 1 watermelon. I wanted a large variety, but I also didn't want to overwhelm myself, either. Some I bought as seedlings, some I planted from seed. Some were things that had started to sprout in my pantry, namely the onions and potatoes. The seeds may or may not be sprouting. It is hard or me to tell if the green I see is the seed I planted, a seed from the mostly composted cow manure I planted them in, or a seed from the field that was dug up. So I will nurture them all until I can identify them.

We are having horrible hot weather here. It has hit 90 degrees a couple of times, and close to it every day for the last week or so. The forecast keeps promising thunderstorms, but they dematerialize before they get to us. We got one rainstorm overnight last week, but it did nothing for the heat. Until the weather breaks, I am keeping the kids in the house. The TV is on more to keep them still so they don't work up too much heat. I can't wait until it rains so I can send them outside. The garden will appreciate it, too. I have been watering it both in the early morning and the later evening, using almost 1.5 gallons each time.

So that is the news from here. I will try not to wait a month again for the next post.