Baby knitting

I was in Tennessee visiting my family last weekend, and while I was there I got to witness my mother in action. When she's not working or at a doctor's appointment or something, she's knitting--and these days it seems like much of her knitting is for the Biffle-Piepmeier baby. She sent me home with a bunch of great stuff. Here are the incredible knitted items our baby has accumulated so far:

Newborn hat, with an umbilical-cord-style attachment on the top.

This is a beautiful green sweater. I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but it's fairly wide, as if she's expecting us to have an unusually chunky baby.

A blanket. Biffle got sort of artistic with arranging this one for the picture.

Wool diaper covers, soaked in lanolin to make them water resistant.

These are wool pants, also soaked in lanolin. I think they're adorable, but I'm a bit concerned that it may not ever get cold enough in Charleston for a baby to need wool pants.

And this one is my very favorite:
The R2D2 hat! Trey found this online, and I immediately forwarded the link to mom, who agreed to make it. Somehow it turned out a bit coneheaded, but we figure if we make the baby wear it every day, then its head will grow to fit the hat.



Dan Conover--neighbor, early supporter of Baxter Sez, and writer for the Post and Courier newspaper here in Charleston--maintains a fantastic blog called Xark. A real Renaissance Man, that Dan Conover.

As i was catching up on some blog friends today i stopped by to look at what Dan had to say on Xark. I was pleased to find he had put up a video to his movie project Brunch of the Living Dead. While the whole thing is pretty funny, it gets even funnier--and a shitload more gloriously juvenile--when you find out that not only is there a Making of in the making, but a Making of the Making of in the making. What do you make of that?

Here: Take a look.

And Janet, Dan's wife (that's right: Dan and Janet!) may be up for a nomination in her spot-on spoof of a number munching marketing consultant.


Book review: Opting In

I just finished Amy Richards' new book, Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself. Amy is one of the big names in third wave feminism, and as you can tell from the title, her book is--at least in part--responding to the pervasive "opting out" discourse that started cropping up a few years ago in pieces in the New York Times and elsewhere. The title, in fact, was so appealing to me that I preordered her book and began reading it as soon as it arrived at the house. I got so pissed off at all that "opting out" stuff--the articles that claimed that women are leaving the workplace in droves to be stay-at-home mothers, spending all day at Starbucks hanging out with other privileged moms and their kids. First of all it's not true, and second of all the fact that the media couldn't get enough of talking about it speaks to how troubled our culture is by the changes happening in parenting, and how much we enjoy a good catfight between moms.

Amy (although I recognize that calling her "Amy" runs the risk of making me sound like a pretentious name-dropper, I actually do know her, so calling her "Richards" feels a little fake to me) starts the book with the "opting out" news stories, sharing the anxiety that they generated among her friends, even though those stories didn't reflect their own lives. The book goes on from there to cover a wide range of contemporary issues, from options related to pregnancy to recent studies about women's fertility, from what it means to do feminist parenting to how to balance work between two caregivers. She balances information and research with stories from her own life as a parent.

Amy has my number in the part of the book where she talks about how easy it is for women to judge other women for their parenting choices. Again and again she relates the point that "We can find a way to support the myriad of experiences without using one person's choice to obliterate another person's experience, or condemning the individual woman for making a choice we may not agree with." One of the strongest aspects of the book is that she assiduously resists anything approaching a catfight between moms.

And yet this open attitude is part of my disappointment with the book. She's so balanced, so careful not to judge, that sometimes she ends up not taking a firm stance--or as firm a stance as I'd like. There were parts of the book where I felt like she was saying, "Some women do this, and some women do that, and it's all okay as long as it's their choice." This may be true, but I found myself wanting a harder edge: choices have different contexts and consequences, and I want my feminist books to consider those, to frame individual choices in terms of larger institutional structures. (Some of the larger institutional structures that get short shrift in the book are class and race--much of what Amy's talking about relates to economically comfortable women.) OR I want a book that's deeply individualized, personal, grounded in the quirky particularities of Amy's own family life. The book didn't give me quite enough of either.

In fact, the taste Amy gave of her own personal life, the glimpses into the wrangling negotiations she and her partner Peter have engaged in as parents, were fascinating enough that I would have loved a whole book with that focus. Her life was a great case study because her own experiences in many ways don't fit the kinds of binaries that our public discourse likes to operate within ("stay at home" vs. "working mom," for instance), so when she tells her own stories, they help to destabilize those familiar (and unhelpful) narratives.

I think this will be a useful book for readers who aren't familiar with the history of US feminism in the 20th century--Amy does a good job of relating contemporary issues to their historical precedents. And she does provide an overview of some of the key feminist discussions happening right now around parenthood. But--perhaps because I lean toward being one of the judgmental, cranky, finger-pointing feminists--I found myself wanting more.


Pointer Brand Overalls: A Review

Review: Pointer Brand High Back Overalls
Price: $38.00, before shipping

The Politics

For years now i've been wearing Liberty Brand overalls, but two things happened...well, three things, actually...that necessitated a change: 1) first of all, i ripped the leg in my best pair while sliding off of some rafters. 2 and 3) (mentioned together because one usually precipitates the other) i couldn't find them anywhere but Wal-Mart, and they started being manufactured "overseas." (Liberty is a brand of Key Industries. Key outsources. So does Dickies.)

My grandfather wore Pointer Brand overalls. I'd forgotten he did until i found Pointer's website during a search for American-made clothing. I saw that familiar looking dog and knew i'd come home.

When i found the site I was pleased to discover they're based in Bristol, Tennessee. Bristol, as you may know, is considered to be the birthplace of the music we now call "Country Music." That's because it's the town where, in 1927, Ralph Peer of Victor Records made the first commercial recordings of rural musicians. Jimmy Rodgers recorded Blue Yodel there. All this is relevant in a way to overalls, too, believe it or not, because in the early days of country music all the musicians were snappy dressers. They knew how to impress and entertain a bucolic crowd--just like any good televangelist--and they wore suits and ties and rings on their fingers. It took Nashville and it's love of slick commercialism and capital to recognize, in an early use of meta-textualism, that a wider audience could be reached if they dressed everybody as rubes, i.e. they put overalls on them.

Anyway, it was cool to know that not only was there a domestic brand of overalls available (Round House is another), but that some were produced so locally and were the overall of choice for Daddy Pigg (us grandchildren's name for my Granddaddy--and another story for another time).

The Selection

Pointer's got quite a few things to offer, including hard to find (but truly ridiculous looking) engineer's overalls--you know, with the pinstripes: good for making you look like an Appalachian mobster. They also have low back overalls--essentially the bib with suspenders around back, which are good for those of us developing a gut. They have pants and coats and...heck, just go look for yourself...

The Fitting

i followed the instructions for proper sizing suggested on the website, which seemed to me to make them way too big. Although i ordered them online, i also called to ask if i could send my pair back if they were too big. The lady on the phone answered on the first ring with "Pointer Brand" (a phrase she made at least 5 syllables long) and told me that would be fine. I paid for the initial shipping and to ship them back. They would pay to send the second pair if i needed them.

i needed them. I wear pants anywhere from 32 to 34 in the waist--i like my clothes to touch me as little as possible. Pointer suggested i buy what turned out to 38s. I figured they'd shrink a little bit, but still feared they'd be huge.
They were HUGE. Like airship huge. They were meant to be worn over clothes--hence the name overalls, of course. I should have know better. Often times, i don't wear them over anything. So i ended up sending back for a pair of 36 x 29s hoping that the new denim, manufactured domestically in a small town right here in South Carolina, would shrink substantially upon washing. I've washed them now and am cool with it, but next time i'm gonna get 34s.

Something i don't understand is the way the strap adjusters are set up. There is a lot of fabric on there. Like 8 inches too much for me. And you can't cut any off, i don't think, because the ends are actually bradded in to the buckle. I recognize many overall wearers need some extra fabric in order to work with big stomachs, but this was just too much. As it is, i've got them adjusted up as far as they'll go. This may turn out to be a good thing, as the buckles are all the way on my back now, as opposed to being on top of my shoulders. I've gotten many a pinch or bruise hoisting a big board up on a shoulder only to have that buckle be right there under it.

Another thing mentioned on the website was that the inseam of these overalls are cut big in the crotch to help facilitate wearing pants underneath them. The result is overalls that--no matter how small you get them--are not gonna make you look sexy. In fact, they give you something i learned back in my Elks Lodge-line-dancing-days-with-the-Osbornes' is called a "shit bag." You know: a big flap of fabric right at the bottom of your butt. Unless you got a big butt. I am not so fortunate.

The Quality

Pointer made my overalls out of 10 oz. denim. Round House and Liberty both use 11+ oz. denim. For reference, Levi's jeans are 12-14 oz. denim. While my Pointers are not going to hold up as long as they could if they were a heavy fabric (one day of roofing could do them in easily), they are also not going to be hot to wear, which is nice here in this South Carolina heat.

I like the deep, deep blue color of them. They are blue in a way that provides just the right amount of irony. Blue enough to be ironic for city wear, but not so blue as to be hipster. Blue enough to be taken serious by other non-ironic overall wearers, but not so blue...as to be considered an ironic city-wearer. You've got to give 'em props for straddling this impossibly thin line.

There are no big flaws to speak of. No messed up seams, no hanging threads. My only complaint may turn out to be a somewhat misplaced button for the bib hooks. One of them is a little too far inside, so a little bit of the bib on that side folds itself under. I hope this will fix itself during the break-in period.

Good things include a zipper fly. I forget to use or simply miss the button holes on button flys and don't like taking that much time. I like to pee a lot, so that kinda thing adds up over a period of time. Another nice feature is not having a overwrought amount of stuff stitched into the bib. Some brands i've owned have had two or even three different zippers up on the bibs. Zippered pockets inside of a zippered pocket, two of three different pencil holes and on and on. Pointer has scaled this back to simply one zippered pocket, a pencil hole (nice and short, so your pencil doesn't get lost down in there) and the traditional stitched pocket watch chain button hole way up at the top. I called Pointer (one of many calls, actually) to ask why they still put that there, and the lady said she didn't know. She then said, "hang on. I'll go ask. " She sat the phone down on the desk and i heard muffled talking in the background. I didn't hear what was said but evidently she was told that "it was for some of the old fellers that still liked to keep their pocket watch chain up there."

Here's my quick low down on Pointer Brand overalls:

Website: Three Yodels out of a possible Five. Needed better pictures.
Customer Service: Five and a Half(!) Yodels.
Fit: For me its gonna be a mere Two and Half Yodels. I think Pointers may be designed more with large people in mind.
Finish: Three and Three Quarters Yodels. I really like the zippers, but a little upset about the off-set button.
Over all: (ho ho ho!) Pointer get Four Yodels (for being from Tennessee and their lovely customer service.) I'll buy more of these because of their light weight and their domestic production.


Why I Aspire to Wear Overalls

I have...oh...five or six heroes in my life. The author, Wendell Berry, is probably number 1. My mama's daddy is on that list. A third is a man named Hector Black. While all three of these men are there for different reasons, i guess it should be noted that all of them are farmers and all of them wear overalls. Anyway, Hector is a man who has owned a farm near Cookeville, Tn. for years and years. He has grown responsibly produced food there since, i think, before i was born. He has allowed many people to come to Hidden Springs to live and learn how to grow their own food in exchange for a little bit of labor.

There's a thing called Story Corps and Alison showed me today where Hector is on there. Follow the link below to listen to Hector's story. I want to warn you, however, it's very sad.

Hector Black on StoryCorps


Morning Fun and Why It's Sorta Difficult Being a Vaguely Redneck, Yet Wildly Liberal Guy in South Carolina

I got a mass email this morning. You've probably seen it. Here it is in tiny print:

From the L. A. Times
1. 42% of all workers in L. A.County ( L. A. County has 10.2 million people) are working for cash and not paying taxes. This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants working without a green card.
2. 96% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.
3. 78% of people on the most wanted list in Los Angeles are illegal aliens.
4. Over 2/3 of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal , whose births were paid for by taxpayers.
5. Nearly 40% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally.
6. Over 350,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages.
7. The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border.
8. Nearly 70% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal.
9. 21 radio stations in L.A. are Spanish speaking.
10. In L.A. County 5.1 million people speak English, 4.3 million speak Spanish.
(There are 10.2 million people in L.A. County . )
(All 10 of the above are from the Los Angeles Times)
Less than 2% of illegal aliens are picking our crops, but 37% are on welfare.
Over 73% of the United States ' annual population growth (and over 90% of California, Florida , and New York ) results from immigration.
34% of inmates in federal prisons are illegal aliens.
We are a bunch of fools for letting this continue. When will our Government takes responsibility and STOP this.
Send copies of this letter to at least two other people 100 would be even better

Since I didn't really agree with what was being said here, i decided to not only Not foward the email to 100 more people, but chose to write all the original senders back. Here's what i wrote:

I just received a wildly inaccurate, clearly xenophobic email concerned with stopping the unwashed mexican hordes from invading our precious shores. I just wanted to ask the person that originated this spurious piece of irresponsible hatred not to include my name on anymore of this malicious misinformation. And please, before you feel tempted to forward this, i encourage you to do a little research/thinking/soul searching about yourself before helping us out anymore.

Here's the deal:

While I think it's a disgrace for anyone to shirk paying their fair share of taxes--and i'm sure that none of us would ever ever do that--or commit a crime (particular as an act of meanness or greed), I don't think this was the purpose of this email. This email was clearly meant to stir up anger at a culture hardly different from white, middle class, americans. I mean, What the hell is meant by the phrase our crops? Who is this "our?" Americans? White people? Hungry people? Since a huge proportion of the produce the U.S. eats actually comes from Peru, does this mean that we should be picking their crops? What the hell is wrong with radio stations being Spanish speaking? Clear Channel Communications own 1200 radio stations alone. i don't think the English language is under-represented. And are we supposed to be angry that someone is living in a garage? Jeez, man, my heart goes out to anyone having to live like that!

Concerning the rest of the list, please feel behooved to fact check: practically every one of those stats is horribly skewed, taken out of context, a flat out fabrication, or alpha/numerically twisted to misrepresent. I assure you, almost none of those stats appeared in the L.A. Times in the context they are presented in that email. (If for no other reason than it would be bad business practices to alienate--according to the email--nearly 50% of L.A.'s population.)

While i have many suggestions for the author of this misguided writing, i'll keep it limited to this: 1) Please stop fucking up MY America. Stop hatin' on people, man. The many immigrants (legal and illegal) we have in this country are largely here because of the promises the U.S. has to offer. Many of them admire what this country has been able to do and they want to share in that dream. Unless you're a Native of this continent, that promise of a better life is almost assuredly why your family moved here--even if it was 400 years ago. 2) Buy Pointer Brand overalls. They are made in America from American materials. They cost $50, but that's the premium for not financing huge multi-nationals to go rape, plunder and extort as much labor and material as it can from people "south of the border." In other words: buy things responsibly. After all, people are trying to move into this country to escape from the oppression our economic practices have created.

Come on America. We can do better than this hateful crap.


Here's the first retort i received (and i don't think they're being ironic):

Typical liberal crap. People need to be angry. A foreign culture is multiplying within our borders and is NOT assimilating. More and more come thru everyday unchecked. If allowed to continue indefinitely, they will be legitimized, then legalized and then they will have an equal say in our political process. That is an invasion.

We (as in Americans) built this country. Sure, we enslaved and raped and killed… oh well that’s history. Doesn’t mean we need to lay down and alow any of that to happen to us. Life isn’t fair and we have have been ruleing the roost for a century and a half…..why give it up? Because it makes us seem principled or moral? Because we feel guilty? Fuck that! We do need to secure the things that we have built raped and stolen..or else the next group will cripple us from within and take what’s ours. Look at the riots in France that went on a month last year….. the reason: Unchecked immigration and lack of cultural assimulaton.

From a financial standpoint: There is NO REASON that one dollar of your taxes should pay for the education or emergency healthcare of criminal invaders. Period, end of story. If you believe that it should…set up your own fund! Who said that, I said that


Once, In the Restroom at a Highway Rest Stop

One time, in the restroom of this rest area off Interstate 40, i saw an old man taking a pee at a urinal. When he finished up, he reached for the handle to flush it and...there was no handle... He looked left and then right. He looked and looked. He was kinda short--i suppose he'd shrunk with age--and he even stood on his tip toes to look on top of the chrome plumbing gizmo. At a loss, he finally lofted his hands in surrender and started to walk away. At that very moment, of course, the automatic urinal flushed loudly into life and scared him.

I went next--fully prepared for the automatic flusher--and then went to wash my hands.

At the sink next to me was a small kid--maybe 8 or 9 years. He was waving his hands around in the sink, but no water was running. He waved his hands around over the faucet. He waved his hands on either side of the faucet. At a loss for what to do, he looked around, puzzled. Finally, I reached over and turned the handle for him.


Fish, mercury, and not freaking out

One of my main goals for this pregnancy has been not to freak out. In general I'm a slightly anxious person--calibrated so that my system tends to operate with a bit more adrenaline than other people's--and I'm also someone who likes to be informed, educated, and in control. But I've felt that many of these tendencies could be counterproductive for me as a pregnant person. I haven't wanted to become an expert on pregnancy. I've been reading midwifery books, but really nothing else--not What to Expect While You're Expecting, not the four million pregnancy websites, not even the very interesting books out there about third wave motherhood (although I might get to those). It's Biffle's job to do the reading--he has a site that he looks at once a week to tell me what's happening gestationally, and if I have specific questions ("Can I take Tums?" "Is it normal that I'm feeling a shooting pain in my side?"), he looks them up and finds the answers (yes to both of the sample questions).

I knew that there were concerns about mercury in fish and that I was supposed to avoid certain fish, but I didn't know the details. In my own head I figured any flaky white fish was probably fine, and so--although I don't eat fish often--I have had fish every now and then when we've gone out to eat. For some reason, this morning I wanted details, so I had Biffle do an internet search about mercury in fish, and how this relates to pregnancy. He found a ton of information. It turns out there are a lot of fish pregnant people are supposed to avoid altogether, including king mackerel (repulsive, so I have not eaten it), shark (I think I may oppose shark-eating on political grounds), and tilefish.

I ate tilefish a few weeks ago, when Catherine and James were in town visiting. Tilefish is a flaky white fish--and it was quite delicious--and now it turns out that pregnant people aren't supposed to eat it at all because of the high levels of mercury in the fish, mercury that can affect fetal brain and nervous system development. (It also turns out that two of the other fish I've eaten while pregnant--grouper and halibut--are on the "eat very rarely" list).

To my credit, I didn't freak out, although I did make Biffle look around longer on the internet until he found an FDA site that said that eating tilefish once while pregnant probably wasn't a crisis situation.

But here's my question: what the fuck are we doing to our planet? The run-off from our coal-fired power plants is affecting marine life so significantly that there is a solid consensus that certain fish are now too toxic for pregnant people to eat. This shouldn't be just an interesting fact for a pregnant person to tuck away--this is a sign of very, very bad things to come. Although I don't want to freak out about this on a personal level, I do think a bit more cultural freaking out would be appropriate.