31 January 2013

The Merry Wives of Windsor

So, we're past Two Gentlemen, finally, and into a ridiculous farce of a comedy. This is a show I've had the good fortune to see performed, and it is hilarious. Merry Wives was written to showcase the character of Sir John Falstaff, whom we will see again in Henry IV, as the friend of Prince Hal. I think he has a bit role in Henry V, too, but as that's one I haven't read, we'll find out when we get there.

Falstaff, frankly, is a pig. And this is the story where his idiocy has consequences. Being a man who thinks much of himself, he sends letters to two different women, propositioning them. They, being friends, get together to rant about this drunken idiot who thinks they'd be interested in an affair, only to discover that the only thing different about each letter was the addressee. Even more insulted, they decide to get even.

They arrange assignations with Falstaff, scheduled at a time when one of their husbands will wander in and Falstaff has to be sneaked out. In one instance, he's carried out in a washing tub by a servant and dumped in a ditch. On another occasion, he's dressed up as a hated female relative who is chased out of the house by a screaming husband while being beaten with a stick.

The husbands are very confused at first. For a while, one thinks his wife really is having an affair, but when they discover what's going on, the husbands and wives team up for a final showdown out in the woods, designed to scare Falstaff out of his wits and pay him back for his misdeeds.

Merry Wives has some of the great elements of Shakespearean comedy: sassy women, slapstick routines, and fun language (a favourite insult from this play is, "You Banbury cheese!"). It's one that you don't see as often, which is a pity. It's ludicrous and a lot of fun. It's not a play with much substance, really. It's just a good time. Falstaff got a play of his own because Elizabeth I liked his character and wanted more, and Shakespeare, eager to please, obliged her. The Bard knew how to play politics.

Our next play is Measure for Measure, which I haven't read in the past or seen before, but I'm looking forward to the adventure.

A few favourite quotes:

"I will marry her, sir, at your request; but if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when were are married and have more occasion to know one another: I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt: but if you say, 'Marry her,' I will marry her; that I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely" Slender, Merry Wives, I.1.254-261 (not quite a Mrs. Malaprop, but close)

"I love not the humour of bread and cheese" Nym, II.1.139

"Who's a cuckold now?" Ford, V.5.115

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two Gentleman of Verona is, like all of the first plays I'm reading, a comedy. Basically, there are 2 guys. One's in love, and is staying in Verona because his lady is there. The other one is opposed to love and is headed out on the road. Guess who's going to change his mind by the end?

Gentleman 1, Proteus, finally convinces the lovely Julia to fall in love with him. Then his father packs him off to Milan to visit Gentleman 2, Valentine, who has since fallen for the witty Silvia. Proteus takes one look at Silvia and falls in love with her, and immediately starts plotting against his best friend. He talks Silvia's father into sending Valentine off on an errand back to Verona to get rid of him. In the meantime, Julia decides to dress up like a boy and go to Milan to surprise Proteus, where she discovers his faithlessness.

Silvia, knowing of Proteus' previous attachment, dislikes him, and runs off to the forest to find Valentine, who has since fallen in with a group of kindly outlaws. Silvia is pursued by Proteus and Julia (disguised as Proteus' servant), and when they catch up with her, she berates Proteus for his inconstancy. Julia reveals herself, and Proteus repents, and they all end up engaged to the proper people.

I was probably more irritated with this play than amused. The best scene was when Launce, one of the servants, was debating marrying a girl, and Speed, another servant, read through the list of her faults and virtues and they commented on each item (although, be warned, the scene is quite sexist). None of the main characters were particularly commendable, except for Silvia, who had a mind of her own. Unfortunately, I was so frustrated with the play that I didn't really try to glean more from it.

The next play is The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is much more fun.


"Fire that's closest kept burns most of all" Lucetta, Two Gentlemen, I.2.30

"Speed: For he, being in love, could not see to garter his hose; and you, being in love, cannot see to put on your hose.
"Valentine: Belike, boy, then, you are in love; for last morning you could not see to wipe my shoes.
"Speed: True, sir; I was in love with my bed." Two Gentleman, II.1.84-91

"What need a man care for a stock with a wench, when she can knit him a stock?" Launce, Two Gentleman, III.1.314-315

"Speed: Item, She hath more hair than wit.-
"Launce: More hair than wit it may be; I'll prove it: the cover of the salt hides the salt, and therefore it is more than the salt; the hair that covers the wit is more than the wit, for the greater hides the less." Two Gentlemen, III.1.369-375

responsibility is a scary word

As most of the people who've read this have probably noticed, I read a lot. I'm the queen of researching topics that I finding interesting, which is why I have, among other books, a book on the history of perfume, a biography of Marie Antoinette, a slowly growing library of philosophical texts, and a book explaining how to be a blacksmith. I doubt I could be on Jeopardy, since my array of random facts is not the same as the one they seem to require, but I do know a lot of odd things.

This week, the not-so-random read was John Medina's Brain Rules for Baby. Basically, it's an easily-read (i.e., he uses scientific language but if you don't follow most science words so well, you can still read this book without a problem) book on the development of the child's brain and what you can do to help your kid's brain do well. There's a lot about encouraging curiosity and imaginative play and avoiding the television. Most of it is, to be fair, pretty sensible advice, but it left me reeling.

Come August (or possibly late July or early September, given that most babies like to show up when it pleases them), J. and I will suddenly be responsible for a tiny human. I'm already responsible for it, since it's busy growing inside of me, but remembering to take my folic acid and avoiding raw fish (and I miss raw fish!) isn't really the same thing as teaching this helpless thing how to walk, talk, and interact with/interpret the world. Part of me goes, "I can't even keep my kitchen clean, what the hell am I going to do a baby?" The other part of me, the bit that just takes on responsibility despite the stress and the scariness of it all, says I'll be fine.

It is strange. It's easy to be responsible for some things. Doing my laundry and showering regularly? Sure, because I really don't like smelling weird. Organizing an event? Last year I was responsible for Vancouver's local yarn crawl, Yarn Harvest. I did it, but I came awfully close to a nervous breakdown a couple of times. This year I'm on the committee as an advisor, not as the only person organizing the whole damn thing (I'm having a baby, I will be in the newborn sleep-deprived haze when Yarn Harvest happens in September). But the thing is, despite the odd hiccup, it all came together.

But what about remembering to put the laundry away? Or calling people back when they leave messages? Or remembering to leave my phone on at all? That's much harder to do, for some weird reason. I feel like I'm still a kid who's trying to figure out what responsibility means and is incapable of achieving some sort of balance in her life.

It's probably the stress talking. Or maybe the hormones. J. and I aren't the most responsible, adult people, and we never will be. We will probably always put reading over remembering to put the laundry away, but I'm pretty sure we can teach a baby to talk. What it will learn to say though, is more worrying.

15 January 2013

rambling about food

Years ago, I read Marya Hornbacher's memoir, Wasted, about her experiences with anorexia and bulimia. It's the sort of book that makes you really want to avoid developing an eating disorder. She's a very good writer, and I'd recommend her work simply because of that, but I'd also recommend it because it's an important story to read. Sometimes, having read her story was one of the things that kept me from going off the deep end when I was in the darker parts of my depression.

Depression isn't as much of a problem right now as it has been in the past. I've gotten off my medication because I'm pregnant, and the anticipated problems with stopping the medication didn't happen, which was a really great thing. But I've been remembering Wasted recently, because morning sickness has been enough to put me off vomiting for life. I finally caved yesterday and got the prescription for an anti-nausea drug filled. It doesn't help completely, but at least I'm no longer throwing up everything I eat or drink. Just some of it. That's a lot better than what was happening yesterday, when I couldn't even keep water down. I keep telling myself this has to be worth it, but at this point, I think childbirth sounds better than pregnancy. At least labour doesn't last nine months. Unless pregnancy suddenly changes, I'm probably not going to be one of those women who wax lyrical about how wonderful and magical pregnancy is. If someone tries to tell me that right now, I'll probably feel like punching them (although I would refrain, since this is Canada).

This was supposed to be going somewhere. Oh, yes. One thing Hornbacher mentions is the way being deprived of food makes you obsess about it. My being sick is about the cocktail of hormones bouncing around my system, rather than the complex reasons that might drive me to an eating disorder, but I have not been exempt to thinking about food. I'll be lying in bed, falling asleep, and suddenly think, despite the nausea, "I want a doughnut!" Or I spend a while looking at recipes on Pinterest. Or wishing I felt well enough to bake the chocolate chip cookies I want to eat, but know won't go over so well.

There are things I plan to make once my stomach settles. I want to learn how to make pho, and there're a couple desserts I've been longing to try. I even found a recipe for Beef Kimbap, which is one of the Korean versions of sushi (or sushi is the Japanese version of kimbap--people aren't really sure). And it is sushi I'm allowed to eat--everything in it is cooked. That's one of the things I miss most, really. I like alcohol, but it's easier to cut that out. Alcohol's expensive and it tended to interact with my anti-depressants to make me even more prone to drowsiness and sleep disturbance, so I didn't have it often before I was pregnant. But it's hard to say goodbye to sushi until after the baby's born, because I feel that fish tastes best when it is raw. And there are at least half-a-dozen good sushi places within an easy walking distance of our home (i.e., several blocks). More sushi places than Starbucks, and there are a lot of Starbucks around here. After we went to go see The Hobbit on Saturday, we went for sushi, because I hadn't eaten in hours (that's a long movie, and I'd been sick beforehand). I got teriyaki, and J. got sushi. I did eat a couple of his California rolls--those are okay--but I've been craving sashimi, and my plan is, once I'm able to manage a dinner out after the baby's born (or failing that, we'll do take-out), I'll get a chirashi-don from our favourite sushi place. Nothing but rice topped with lots of fish.

In the meantime, in the absence of some of my favourite foods, I'm making blueberry muffins. I'm using this recipe, which looks fantastic, so now I need to go to the store for buttermilk.

13 January 2013

The Tempest

I forgot to specify that my reading order is being dictated by my copy of the Complete Works. It goes: comedies, histories, tragedies, and poetry. If a special request is made for a specific work to show up earlier, I'll be happy to take you up on the suggestion, but otherwise, I'm just reading through the book as is.

The Tempest is one of the more well-known comedies. I've read it in the past, and have seen it performed, so re-reading it hasn't been a chore. For those less familiar with the story, I'll offer a summary. The Tempest is the story of a duke in exile, who, having learnt to be magician, uses his magic and the spirits he commands to create a storm that brings those responsible for his exile to his island, including the King of Naples and his handsome young son. Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, has lived on the island for years with his daughter Miranda for company. His only other companions are the sprite Ariel, whom he freed from captivity and who now serves him, and Caliban, the son of the witch who had previously ruled the island. Ariel is styled an airy spirit, mostly benevolent, while Caliban is deemed sub-human and evil. Miranda, Prospero's daughter meets one of the shipwrecked men, Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples, and immediately falls in love with him. Her father, wishing the match to be a little more solid than love at first sight, forces Ferdinand to work for him and lets Miranda watch and sympathise.

In the meantime, Prospero sets Ariel to tormenting the men responsible for his sufferings, to bring them to repentance. As this is happening, two sailors from the ship run into Caliban, and together the three plot to do away with Prospero. Naturally, Ariel overhears, warns Prospero, and the magician and his sprite chase them off.

When Prospero deems that Ferdinand has proved himself, he grants permission for Miranda and Ferdinand to become betrothed. After dealing with Caliban and company, he meets with his former enemies, forgives them, and they reconcile. There is much rejoicing over Ferdinand and Miranda's betrothal. Prospero forgives Caliban and the two sailors for trying to kill him, and then sets Ariel free. As he is to return to Milan, he renounces his magic and bids the audience farewell.

The Tempest has never been my favourite of the comedies, but it does provide many possibilities for staging, given the liberal use of magic and the sprites running around the island. When I was in high school, my drama class read the play and our teacher had us do costume designs for our own visions of the show. I set my version at a 1920s beach resort, and had a lot of fun drawing pictures of the outfits for the characters.

Some years ago, I got to see a production of Tempest in Portland, Oregon. I believe the actors were from the Royal Shakespeare Company, and they'd taken their production on the road. There were only 3 or 4 actors in the show, and they switched parts around beautifully. No real set, minimal props, but an excellently done show, especially for a play that one automatically thinks of staging lavishly.

I get easily irritated with the characters in Tempest for various reasons. One of the largest irritants is the dynamic between Prospero and Caliban. Prospero assumes that Caliban is naturally evil because of his lineage and his appearance, and then treats him so. Caliban points out that Prospero had at first treated him kindly, and then had started treating him poorly, so now he hates him, where once he had adored him. This always troubles me, because Prospero commits the fallacy of assuming that Caliban is evil because he looks unpleasant, and then because he treats him poorly, Caliban responds in kind. It's easy to judge others by their appearances (I know I certainly do), but The Tempest illustrates that it can be dangerous to do so.

A read again through The Tempest made me pick out a few quotes that I'd forgotten or not really noticed before. They're listed below. On to The Two Gentlemen of Verona!

Interesting Quotes
"If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable" Gonzalo, Tempest I.1.33-34

"You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!" Caliban, Tempest I.2.363-365

"He receives comfort like cold porridge" Sebastian, Tempest, II.1.10-11

"Look, he's winding up the watch of his
wit; by and by it will strike" Sebastian, Tempest, II.1.14-15

"The trust you speak doth lack some gentleness,
And time to speak it in. You rub the sore
When you should bring the plaster" Gonzalo, Tempest, II.1.142-144

"Do not infest your mind with beating on
The strangeness of this business" Prospero, Tempest, V.1.246-247

a recipe and a revelation

While we're not vegetarian (except for that summer when we couldn't afford meat), we often do vegetarian meals. When I was a kid, I'd never been too keen on vegetarian stuff until, as an adult, I realized that vegetarian food was supposed to taste good (unlike the meat substitute patties a co-worker of mine at camp ended up eating all summer because she was the only vegetarian on staff). 

I don't remember when the revelation hit, but it was one of those where I went, "Oh, if you don't act like meat's supposed to be there and you're trying to make it look like it's not missing, the food gets so much better!" Most vegetarians would probably respond with, "Duh!" to that, but I still can't believe it took me as long as it did to figure that out. I think I may have been somewhere between 20 and 21.

Anyway, I dug out a favourite vegetarian recipe recently, and decided to post it, partly because I keep losing it in the depths of the facebook messaging system, so now I'll have saved in my recipe folder and on here. Plus, I figure other people might enjoy it, too. Part of me has a sneaking suspicion that I may have posted this before, but oh well. I think I may be able to handle eating this soon, so I'm putting it on the maybe list of food for this week.

This recipe has protein, and veggies, and croutons. It'll fill you up. It's not vegan--if you want to make it vegan you'll have to change out the yogurt dressing with something else. It's also not gluten-free, as is, but if you want it to be, just leave out the croutons.

I picked up this recipe from my sister-in-law and her husband. They served it once when we were over and it was great. Then we got the recipe, made it, and ate cauliflower and bean salad for the next three days and it was delicious. I believe they found the recipe somewhere in the Middle East, but I'm not sure where. They lived in Saudi for a while, but did a lot of traveling to other countries in that area, so it could be from anywhere, really.

Curried Cauliflower and Green Bean Salad with Lemon Yogurt

Part 1:
1 head cauliflower cut into florets
1 red onion, julienned
½ lb green beans, 2-inch lengths
salt+pepper+olive oil to coat

Roast on a sheet pan until tender, slightly browned and slightly crispy (about 15-20 minutes). If you have smaller rimmed sheet pans, use two so the vegetables roast evenly.

Part 2:
2 slices bread, torn into small chunks

Saute in a pan until crispy like croutons. Season with salt.

Part 3:
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup cilantro (or less)
1 garlic clove

Warm up the curry powder in the bread pan with a dash of oil. Add to a bowl with everything else and mix.
Serve the veg, top with dressing and croutons (or toss veg and sauce then add croutons to serve).

11 January 2013

The Shakespeare Attempt

Since I've had to put my Dress Project (the one where I card, spin, and weave fleece into fabric, then sew it by hand into a dress) on hold, due to various factors, I cast about for a new year-long project. I'm starting a couple weeks late, but no matter. I like having something to do, something that feels like it might be significant, at least personally, and this one will check off something that's been on my mental to-do list for years.

This project was inspired by the work of Matthew Davis, who read through all of Dickens in one year. That's a lot of reading, and I'm very impressed. While I like Dickens in small doses, I don't have the determination to plow through all of his works like that. Instead, I've picked a different writer, one whose work I know I can continue reading throughout the year without losing interest.

37 plays, 154 sonnets, and 6 assorted long poems. That's right. This is the year of the Shakespeare Attempt.

My goal is to read through each play and poem (those known and available, at least--if my Complete Works is missing a poem or two, I will have to track those down) over the course of the next year. Since I have begun my task on January 11, 2013, it must be completed by January 11, 2014. I will do a weekly post on my reading, and provide some fun quotes as I go.

I have read a number of Shakespeare's plays before, so some of this will be re-reading. However, I always find that a re-read allows me to see things in the text that I'd missed in the past, and I'm sure I'll discover new depths and delights in the Bard's work.

We begin with The Tempest.

10 January 2013

all over the map

I keep trying to start a post, and then it goes nowhere. My last two posts are still in draft, and while they have some interesting things, they're not exactly great. Not that most of my posts are; I think some of my best writing thus far in my life is found in my MA thesis, which I'm certainly not posting on here. After I defend it sometime this term, I want to do some revision and submit my analysis to a journal. Plus, this blog isn't about academic writing, although in about a year and a half, I may be writing posts on first-language acquisition, since we will have a child acquiring its first language and trying to express itself then (I think that puts a baby due in July at about the 11-12 month mark, when they're supposed to start trying to talk). I'm already figuring out ways to brush up on my French, since that's the only other language besides English that I can speak, really. My Mandarin was always, even after a year of studying it, sketchy at best. But I need to get going on that, so the baby will be able to process more than just the phonemes of English.

No, this isn't going to turn into a mommy-blog. I find most mommy-blogs really irritating (there are few that I do read and enjoy, but not many), and while the language acquisition thing could get really interesting, that's more related to me being a linguist. Most of my knowledge about language acquisition is limited to second language acquisition, rather than first, so I'll have to start researching.

At any rate, when I'm not puking my guts out lately (the books say the morning sickness is supposed to be stopping sometime this week, but so far that hasn't happened), I'm trying to figure out decluttering, alongside working on the thesis and reading random books. And finding cheap children's books at the thrift store. We are now the proud owners of If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

The latest random book is The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno. I thought it would be more pedantic than it is, and I'm enjoying it so far. I might do a book review of it when I'm done reading. Since we've got to get going on decluttering to help make the house baby-proof (right now it's really, really not), it's an interesting read. And now I'm going to go read some more, and see how the story turns out.

07 January 2013


This afternoon, I was walking home. A man walking in front of me set his empty coffee cup down on a brick wall alongside the sidewalk.

Since I knew there was a trash can about twenty feet ahead, I just grabbed it and headed for the trash can.

The man turned around, pointed to me, and shouted, "Good karma!" Then he pointed at himself and said, "Bad karma!" Then he darted across the street.

I rolled my eyes and tossed the lid, cup, and coffee sleeve into the appropriate receptacles and continued on my way.

02 January 2013

Book Musings: The Casual Vacancy

Since we are poor and I can't justify spending $35 on a book that I'm not sure if I'll like at the moment, I was in the library queue for J. K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy. I finally got it about a week and a half ago.

I read it over two days (this is normal to slow reading speed for me--yes, I know I'm annoying), and when I finished it the second evening, sitting in bed while J. was snoring beside me, I wasn't sure how to react.

It's a good book. The quality of writing is far higher than the last couple Harry Potter books (the best of the bunch in my opinion), and Rowling does not sacrifice story for sentiment. This is always a difficult thing for a writer, I think. I'm crap at writing tragedy, and when I realize that something really bad has to happen to a character, it's almost a mourning process. My almost-ready-to-go novel has one character who, in the very first incarnation of the book, was going to die. I kept her alive, partly because I was too chicken to kill her, and partly because it worked better for the plot just to have lots of horrific things happen to her. But it still hurts to have ripped her apart like that, even for the sake of the story.

However, unlike me, Rowling fearlessly allows bad things to happen and it makes the story better as a result. I hadn't read about the story, and I had no idea what was going to happen, so by the time I reached the end, I was almost traumatized. This, I think, is what a good tragedy should do. As Kafka said, "A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us." I felt cracked open after reading this book.

When the book began, I thought it would be a dark comedy. Indeed, the exposition is very much darkly humourous. I couldn't stop laughing, but it was the kind of laughter that is followed by knife-twisting reality. None of the characters in the book are truly good--they are all dangerously flawed, and so few of them are self-aware that they don't even realize how flawed they are. As a result, the damage they cause to those around them is excruciating.

The truly frightening thing is that the characters' petty squabbles, which cause so much pain, are real. It is easy to look at the story and see it playing out in reality somewhere. There are people like that. There are many people like that. And I shudder to think which character I might resemble most. I don't want to be any of them, but it scares me to think that my tendency towards being judgemental, which I try to tightly rein in, might break loose and become that destructive.

The book really is a tragedy: it begins with a death and ends with a funeral. There is resolution for some characters, but not for others, as so often happens in reality. I don't read tragedy often. I find that unless it is truly a good book, the emotional anguish isn't worth it. And I'm a sap. I love happy endings. To be fair, I prefer interesting happy endings to sentimental ones, but I still like the happiness, the comedy, the story ending with a wedding, or something like that. I like the reminder that there is hope in the world. This is probably why I don't like 1984 or Frankenstein, but really enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale.

And yet...The Casual Vacancy was well worth the read, and I feel better for having read it. I don't know if I'll feel inclined to re-read it. My tendencies towards depression mean that multiple re-reads of dark tragedies aren't really the best mental fodder. Still, having read it once, I can say that it is worth at least a single, thorough read-through. It will be painful, but it's the sort of pain that's good for you. If it prompts some good introspection, so much the better.

A side-note: It's really not for children, and I can't emphasize that enough. If you have a mature 16 or 17-year-old, maybe they could read it, but I was pretty mature at 17 and I don't think it would have been a good idea for me to read it then. 18+ is my recommendation. This is not the Harry Potter series. This is something entirely different. You can still tell it's Rowling--her style, though further developed through time and practise, is very evident. But this is not for children. It's also not for those readers who are easily offended by characters who swear, or who have idealized views of the world that they prefer to keep.