26 December 2014

New Year's Knitting Plans

We arrived home from our Christmas trip this afternoon. For once, we had good fortune with the roads on the journey north and the journey south. The initial plan, to leave on Saturday, was scrapped in favour of leaving on Boxing Day because it was supposed to snow Saturday. I stress more about travel than I really need to, so I spent the ride home reminding poor J. to drive carefully. The litany makes me feel better and doesn't really bother him. We had an audiobook playing, which is what helps him on long drives. (Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam. One more CD left to finish!). And now we are home, and it's just the three of us again, which is pleasant. E., who had a lovely time at her grandparents', is now happily trying to draw on her piece of toast with the wrong end of a pen. She's glad to be out of the carseat.

As it is now officially After Christmas, I'm thinking about making knitting resolutions for the New Year. Several years ago, I knit a lot of socks. Then I had mostly hand-knit socks in my wardrobe with a few store-bought ones that were still good and headed off to knit other types of items. I still knit socks here and there, but not as many. Time has passed, the socks have been worn many times, and more than a couple pairs are starting to wear out. It's time to make more.

I have a lot of sock yarn, and a lot of sock patterns, so it's mostly a matter of choosing where to start. First things first: WIPs. One pair is suffering from Second Sock Syndrome, so it's time to give the poor thing its mate.

Afshari is from Hunter Hammersen's Silk Road Socks, which is just a fantastic book all around. I haven't gotten around to finishing the poor pair of socks yet. I ended up grabbing a blue yarn for this one, so mine looks similar to the one in the book, just in a different shade, and more solid. The pattern's nice because the cuff is interesting, but the foot is stockinette, so it's a relatively swift knit. Pictures when I remember to pull out the camera and take them.

Next on the list is a pair of socks that are simple enough to use one of the patterned yarns with. I have a few patterned yarns lurking around that need using up. Some are partial skeins that may go into something else (very stripy baby cardi?), but a couple are more than enough for a full pair. I'm currently torn between a stripy brown yarn that has been ripped out several times and a stripy green stretchy yarn that I've yet to knit with. I'm thinking of doing this pattern. The Vanilla Latte socks are simple and easy with a little bit of interest to keep me going.

And after that, one in a solid with a more complicated pattern. For fun. I have a couple in mind, but not sure which one I'm picking yet.

My other knitting resolutions consist of a sweater that needs a sleeve, a sleeve that needs the rest of the sweater, a hat that needs decreases, and a cardigan for E. Time for me to get knitting.

20 December 2014

sense of home

We leave for the in-laws' place in less than ten hours, and I can't go to sleep until I get the next load of laundry into the dryer. So I'm here. Trying to wind down at the end of a long day.

Part of me wants to just give up and go to sleep. The other part of me wants to enjoy the small amount of time I will get by myself in my own home before we head out.

I like spending time with family but after a couple days, I just want to go home. As welcoming as my in-laws are, and as lovely as their home is, there's something about sleeping in my own bed that makes coming home almost a relief.

 Funny how that is. I feel the same when we spend time with my family, and I'm far more comfortable in my parents' house because, years ago, I used to live there. But even then, it's not exactly home anymore and so returning to our place feels better.

And this musing on "home" is now over. Laundry in dryer, I'm off to bed. Happy Christmas.

12 December 2014

things to do, but distractions abound

Today I have to finish frantically cleaning up our home (kitchen counters, kitchen floor, vacuuming, tidying, bathroom, E.'s messy bedroom), hike over to the bank and the pharmacy, make cookie dough to freeze, pick up an assortment of vegetables to slice up, and probably buy paper towels. Yes, today is the annual Christmas Potluck, and there are people coming over tonight. I know these particular people don't care so much about how clean my house is, but I do, so it must be done. Oh, and I'm supposed to call and talk with a friend out in Ontario this afternoon, since she and I haven't talked in a while.

And I currently have a sleeping baby on my lap. She woke up earlier screaming about something (she can't articulate what her dreams are about so I have only speculation), and now doesn't really want to be set down, but doesn't want to wake up yet, either. So I have my computer and I have my tea, and, of course, I have E. (why didn't anyone tell me that this parenting thing meant alone time would be completely a thing of the past before it was too late? I tried taking a bath last night and E. decided she needed to come with, despite J. being there to entertain her, so I was sitting in the tub with a toddler banging on the door and trying to talk to me. Then she tried shoving me away from the sink when I was doing dishes).

I'm just resigning myself to being stuck here for the moment. She's only going to be this small for a short time, after all.

03 December 2014

December Traditions

It's December already and we've actually had a snowfall (it's southern BC, we don't get a lot of that). I took E. out in the snow while J. was putting the snow tires on our car. She was not entirely thrilled with the whole thing. Snow is cold and slippery. She can't go as fast as she wants, and she has the added indignity of being stuffed into a snowsuit. It may take a little while for her to come around.

I, on the other hand, love snow. Sure, it's cold and wet, but it's beautiful and it feels magical. We're spending Christmas up north with my in-laws this year, which pretty much guarantees a white Christmas (though that also means a sub-zero Christmas so we won't be out in the snow very much, especially with E.). We're starting to figure out Christmas presents. J.'s work Christmas party is this weekend, and the Christmas potluck we usually do is next weekend.

E. is fascinated by Christmas lights and wants to see them up close (which is why we don't have any up, otherwise she'd be climbing more things). She likes our tree, which is up well out of reach. She thinks the Nativity scene people are "dolls" and wants to play with them. They are also out of reach, because they are breakable. Next year at my parents', she can play with their Playmobil Nativity. I'm sure she'll be very excited about presents, though I think she'll still be more entranced by the paper than the toys. There's something very wonderful about watching a child discover Christmas, about figuring out which traditions we'll have for her, which parts of Christmas we want to impart to our daughter.

We don't do Santa. We don't do Elf on the Shelf (which is just plain creepy, I think). We won't be doing massive amounts of presents, because we simply don't have the money and don't think it's wise to culture those kinds of expectations. We decorate, but not a lot. A tiny tree, a few other ornaments here and there, a Nativity set I made in ceramics class when I was seventeen which consists of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the manger.

I love Christmas movies, Christmas music. I don't play them all the time, but we do have them around. We have the grown-up movies, like The Family Stone and Love Actually, the classics like White Christmas and Holiday Inn, and some kid's ones, like the claymation Rudolph. At Christmas I pull out the Fred Penner Christmas album, followed by Pink Martini's Christmas album, and a few others that fall into the category of having at least a few different songs than the ones being played at the mall. I also get out a episode of This American Life. This segment in particular:

It appeals to both my cynicism about and my love of Christmas at the same time. We also listen to David Sedaris at Christmas time.

So far, our Christmas traditions reflect a blend of the religious and the secular, like a lot of people's do. Trees and Advent wreaths. Church services and presents. It's an odd balance some days. And some days it feels just right.

29 October 2014

reading notes: Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Didion, Joan. (2006) [1968]. "Slouching towards Bethelehem." In Didion, Joan, We tell ourselves stories in order to live: Collected nonfiction (1-177). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

I had wanted to read Didion's Slouching Toward Bethelehem for some time, primarily because of the evocative title. I wasn't entirely sure what the book was about. As it happened, the essays in the book touch on one of the eras in American history about which I am extremely foggy. History classes in high school tend not to cover the 1960s, or only do so in passing. When I got to university, I was required to take a history course, and I selected one on the history of Asia and Africa (up to the point when European colonization began). I chose it because it was a topic I wanted to learn more about and it had no pre-requisites. Much of the history I know is self-taught, from reading. Didion's collection of essays let me fill in some of the blanks about the 1960s, though it is itself a limited picture, being a series of stories told about different people, mostly in the alternative cultures.

I first found Didion's style a bit off-putting. It was rushed, almost choppy, as if she was in a hurry to communicate what she had seen before her memories blurred. She narrates, but attempts to stand aloof: She reports the story but rarely engages with it. Particularly in the title essay, Didion seems withdrawn; her reports of young people who are taking heavy drugs, living on the streets or in communes, are matter-of-fact. It is only at the end of the essay when she sees a kindergartener whose mother regularly dosed her with acid that she stumbles in her dispassionate questions and the reader feels her absolute shock.

It was in the second part of the book that I discovered a genuine interest in what Didion was writing. The first section, "Lifestyles in the Golden Land" includes the title essay, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," as well as several others, all about California. The second is titled "Personals;" the pace slows, and the author becomes apparent to the reader. This is where I connected with the narrative, with Didion's stories and ideas. Perhaps it is a generational matter, a matter of preference for different writing styles, and for slightly different ways of telling stories. A few of her shorter essays resonated with me, and I have now added to my knowledge, so it was definitely worth the read.


"And sometimes even the maker has difficulty with the meaning" ("On Keeping a Notebook," p. 104).

"To have that sense of one's intrinsic self-worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference" ("On Self-Respect," p. 112).

26 October 2014

KCW: The rest of the costume

So, I finished E.'s pants and vest. They are done, they work, and now I just need to dig an old ring out and put it on a piece of string for the rest of the costume.

Finding mushrooms on her quest.
 The Charles pants were fairly easy to put together since it's now my second time through the pattern. I haven't printed out the final version of it, so I was working with the test pattern again. I believe the final version corrects some of the fitting issues in the waist that were present in the test version. I used the more fitted waistband this time and did the elastic band in the back as well. I didn't quite get the length of the pants right, but as she'll grow taller, her pants being a bit long isn't exactly a disaster.

I used a pair of old brown pants for the main fabric, the same green flannel I used in the cape for the contrast, and did yellow topstitching. The buttons are some yellow-ish leather ones I bought at Button Button a while ago.

New pants, new vest, now if only the rock she's standing on were better.
 The vest was engineered out of an old cardigan of mine. I loved that cashmere cardigan, a $7 thrift store find, originally from Banana Republic. I finally gave up on darning the holes underneath the arms, where it was wearing thin. It's now a cozy buttoned vest with slightly wonky armhole bands for E., a side effect of not cutting the bands wide enough. I traced a t-shirt and made use of the button band already in place. It'll be a nice layering piece over the winter, as well as a Halloween costume.

I started a Louisa dress yesterday and it was coming together really well. Then I sewed through the zipper teeth for several inches without realizing it and now have to painstakingly take the zipper off and sew it back on more carefully and shorter (it's at least a 20 inch zipper, I have room to shorten it). Blasted invisible zipper foot not wanting to be compatible with invisible zipper I found at the thrift store that may be older than me. But the dress is lovely so far--blue corduroy with a flowered corduroy front pocket and fully-lined. I love how simple the pattern is, how elegant in many ways. I'm considering one with a matching front pocket and another without the front pocket.

I may not get the dress done tonight, but the hobbit child is ready for Halloween.

23 October 2014

KCW: Hobbit Cloak

Instead of numbering the days for Kid's Clothes Week this time around, I'm just labeling my posts about it with the item I made. I made this cloak on Day 1, and today is Day 4, because it usually takes me a bit to get the pictures off the camera.

E. is going to be a hobbit for Halloween this year, which ties in nicely with KCW's storybook theme this time around. I took a look through Tolkien's intro to The Fellowship of the Ring, and it includes a note that hobbits like bright colours and are extremely fond of yellow and green. The hobbits in the fellowship wear green cloaks, so I took my cue from that.

I happened to have a child's dress-up cape pattern in a book a friend gave me last year when E. was born. The book is Sweet and Simple Handmade. It's a very nice book and my current biggest complaint is that either I am missing one of the pattern sheets altogether, or I have lost one. I don't remember there being four sheets, just three, and that's all I have, and at least one pattern in the book does not have a counterpart on the pattern sheets (and I was going to use that one for a vest for the hobbit costume--now I have to practice my pattern drafting skills instead). Also, I really hate pattern tissue paper. It never folds up again properly. Good book, would be better if it came with a CD of pdf patterns instead.

For the outer fabric of the cape, I went to Fabricana and found some green flannel. I would have loved to use wool fabric, but I don't really want to spend $25+/metre for a toddler's dress-up cape. (And yes, when I made myself a cloak, with the assistance of my grandmother, after my first year of university, I went straight to the woollen section and selected a lovely blue and green wool plaid. It's a lovely item and I've had it for years. Grown-up clothing is different, even if it is for dress-up). I am starting to really love flannel. It's soft, warm, easy to work with, and softens even more with age (true, not as sturdy as linen, but that's okay). I used an old cream-coloured sheet for the lining.

I added a hood, which I traced from one of E.'s sweatshirts, to make it a proper cloak. I used yellow ribbons for the tie at the neck. The cloak was a very fast piece to put together--several long seams each for lining and outer fabric, a couple curved seams for the hood, some careful pinning when sewing the two pieces together, and a little bit of handstitching where I flipped it right-side out (side-note: my blind stitch is improving).
The hobbit-child in motion.

I had to shorten the cloak by about a foot. It's listed in the preschool age section in the book, so it's designed with the average height of three and four-year-olds in mind. This is an easy alteration, though, and one I knew I'd need to make from the get-go. Same with adding the hood--I knew I'd want that so I got to try out drafting a hood for the first time.

Our little hobbit is off on an adventure!
The biggest problem I had with the pattern is it was very obviously designed for dress-up only, not for warmth. The width at the top of the cloak is too small to wrap around my very tiny child's shoulders--it fits because of the ribbon tie. I prefer capes that wrap around the shoulders more, both for practicality (warmth, basic fit, and oh, ribbon tie digging into my child's neck because the cloak has to dangle from the tie, not the shoulders) and aesthetics. This problem is easily solved by adding more panels when cutting out fabric. I kind of want to make another one in red.

I'm now working on E.'s pants for the costume. Charles pants in brown with green flannel contrasting fabric. I really love this pattern and these pants are going to be great for the rest of the winter, not just for Halloween.

16 October 2014

Sewing Update

Life's been a little busy the last couple weeks. We had a trip down to Seattle for Thanksgiving and E. suddenly sprouted a bunch of new teeth. I took a class at Knit City the weekend before Thanksgiving, which was marvelous, but I didn't bring the camera so I've no pictures from the event. I've managed to do some sewing but I keep forgetting about the blog. I have good intentions, but we know where those lead.

I have signed up for KCW Fall 2014, so next week I'll be doing more sewing, accompanied by more blogging, but here's what I've been making over the last month:

Charles Pants

I signed up to be a tester for Compagnie M.'s newest pattern, the Charles pants. E. now has a pair of adorable Charles shorts. She's on the short side, so the shorts are on the long side. Not a bad thing, in my opinion--I lean towards knee-length shorts myself. The Charles pattern is adorable--there are two length options and an overalls option. I love the buttons on the fronts of the pants, and the contrasting colour waistband and pockets. I put in the back elastic waistband option and did some fancy top-stitching with one of the options on my sewing machine that I hadn't tried out before. The fabric I used was a dark blue corduroy I'd found at the thrift store and a red plaid flannel that was in some leftover scraps from a friend. The 1-year-old size did not use a lot of fabric at all--not even a full meter! Possibly not even half a meter. I wasn't measuring to see how much I used up.

E. in her Charles shorts, back view
The pattern was fairly easy to follow, and none of it was much of a stretch for me. I haven't done a lot of buttonholes on my new machine, and it got grouchy on the last one because I hadn't switched to a new needle yet, but that was the biggest hiccup. E.'s shorts are a little large in the waist, despite the adjustable waistband, because this was the test pattern. I wasn't able to stay in for the second round of testing, and I haven't yet tried out the new version of the pattern (on the list for KCW next week!), but I have heard that the waistband is a better fit now. Of course, she just had a growth spurt and is now taller and skinnier so I may need to add an extra buttonhole or two into the waistband elastic when I make it next week.

Charles pants from the side front, with E.'s camera face.

Lotta Dress

Yes, I'm on a Compagnie M. kick. I bought Lotta, Mara, and Louisa last month. Then I tested Charles, so I have that one, too. I still need to get a hold of some cording so I can make piping for Mara, but Louisa is on the list's for next week.

I made Lotta last week over a few afternoons. It came together quickly, but it had a couple firsts for me. I took the plunge and learned how to do an invisible zipper. I highly recommend the zipper mini-class on Craftsy (and no, I don't get paid for that, I just think it's pretty cool). I went out and bought an invisible zipper foot for my machine. It happened to be on sale at the nearest fabric store when I went in, so that was a lovely coincidence. And of course, installing an invisible zipper is much easier than I thought it would be. Even installing it with a lining is easier than I thought it would be. I also did my first blind hem. Again, not as hard as I thought it would be.

The fabric was a striped plain-weave that I got when my grandmother was getting rid of fabric. I don't know what it's made out of--I just know it's machine-washable. The lining is a blue broadcloth, again from the bag of scraps (like the plaid in the Charles shorts). I used orange buttons on the neckline and pockets. I had to shorten the bodice and the skirt. I didn't bother taking the bodice in, so she can wear long-sleeved shirts underneath the dress this winter more easily.

She seemed happy enough with the dress. At this age, I think she likes it when she grabs it and runs around the room with it (that means she really likes that old tank top I use as a pajama shirt). It's hard to tell. She still hasn't discovered that stuff can go in pockets, so once we've had that revelation I foresee E. using this dress to carry a lot of rocks around.

E. in her Lotta dress at the beach.

Next time I make the dress, I'm doing different sleeves, just for fun, and maybe moving the neckline notch up just the tiniest bit (no more than 1/2 a centimeter), since it's a bit deep on E. Curse of the tiny child.

My list for next week includes a Louisa dress, a pair of Charles pants, a cape, and a vest. We're going hobbit for Halloween this year, so the pants, the vest, and the cape all figure in to that. I just need to find something woolly and green for the cape and maybe something brown for the pants (or I'll stick with the navy corduroy; not sure yet). The vest will be reverse-engineered from my favourite cashmere cardigan. I've finally given up darning the underarms, since a new hole sprouts whenever I put it on. I have something that may work for the pants lurking in a box, but I think I may need to take a trip to the fabric store for the cape outer fabric. Might be an excuse to finally check out Fabricana, now that it's actually nearby. I've heard marvelous things about it. And on that note, it's probably time to stop blogging and start cutting out pattern pieces.

16 September 2014

Richard II

 So, I know I said that first stop in the histories would be King John, but then I found about The Hollow Crown and got it at the library. Because of that, I'll be writing up Richard II and the Henrys IV and V. Admittedly, I checked it out partly because Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal/Henry V, but I started with the first one in the batch, Richard II, and it blew me away. Incredible play, incredible production. As plays are always easier to watch than read, it helped to watch the film, then read the play, as I could then hold the structure in my mind better. The Hollow Crown's production cuts a minor scene in the first act, and switches the character who assassinates Richard (which has great dramatic affect, admittedly--I can understand why they made that particular choice). There are a few added scenes with no lines to fill in the gaps between scenes, sketching out the action that's only told of.

Richard II is Shakespeare's account of the end of Richard II's reign, when he was deposed by the man who became King Henry IV. Richard's story is that of a king who devoutly believes in the doctrine of rule by divine right. Unfortunately for Richard, he listens to flatterers who are not as wise as his older advisors, raises taxes too high, and heads off to fight in a war in Ireland, leaving his country under the protection of his uncle, who remains rather unfortunately neutral when Richard's banished cousin Henry Bolingbroke turns up to reclaim his dukedom (but really, to seize the throne). When he returns from Ireland to find that most of his people are vocally (and militarily) supportive of Henry, he reluctantly relinquishes his crown. For his pains, he is thrown in prison and later assassinated.

Of course, the true situation was a little more complex and took a bit longer than than Shakespeare's two-three hour depiction. Apparently the ruinous tax situation was longer-lived than the few months or so in the play--Richard had not been very popular for a while. It's a lesson in caution to those monarchs who ruled by divine will--they also ruled at the will of the people, and the people should have been considered more than they were.

This is my first real foray into Shakespeare's histories. I've read Macbeth (excellent play), but other than watching bits of Henry V, I hadn't really considered the histories. And they are well worth consideration. The language is incredible. I almost feel like saying, "Screw the comedies, the histories are much better!" (True, I haven't read all of them yet, so we shall see. If this is a fair sample, then yes, the histories are much better written). There are lines in Richard II which I recognize but had never known came from this play. There is an ode to England so beautiful that it nearly makes one weep; the scene when Richard abdicates is wrenching; the moment when he realizes he will lose his crown is exquisitely painful.

Our next stop in the histories will be Henry IV, Part I, followed by Part II. Henry IV is also a great play and I look forward to discussing it.

Quote (I liked a lot in this play, so we'll just do one quote this time, to save space)

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden – demi-paradise –

This fortress built by nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house

Against the envy of less happier lands;

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
                       John of Gaunt, Richard II Act II, Scene 1,40-50

26 August 2014


I've missed out making jam for the last couple summers. I'd do a batch here and there, but I hadn't been very serious about planning it out so we'd have jam all winter. Last summer I was too pregnant, and then too involved with a newborn, so this summer, I'm making up for it. This requires J. to watch the tiny one, since she has a habit of wandering into the kitchen and demanding to know what I'm doing and to see what's on the stove at the most inopportune moments. Now that we have a Learning Tower (no, I am not affiliated with them, nor do I earn money from this link, I just think it's a cool and useful piece of furniture), I'm hoping that this will be less of a problem, but you never know. 

One of the things that's kick-started this interest in canning is the book Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan. My mum gave me a copy when we moved, and I've already worked through a few recipes. The book is a lovely piece of work; it focuses on small batch canning and offers recipes for interesting but not too exotic jams, jellies, preserves, and sauces, as well as some pickling recipes and a few foods that can go in jars but which aren't canned. I plan to try many of the jam recipes and a few of the pickles. The canned tomatoes and tomato sauce are also on my list.

Image from foodinjars.com
Small batch canning interests me partly because I don't like turning an entire flat of apricots into jam--it's very time-consuming and it leaves us with nothing but apricot jam for the winter. I prefer to do several small batches of different kinds of jam.

Thus far, from this book, I have tried the strawberry vanilla jam, the apricot jam, the peach plum ginger jam, the nectarine lime jam, and the blueberry jam. The cantelope and spiced plum jams are also on the list. Pickled asparagus is on the list for later this week, since asparagus was on sale at the produce store (our new home is three blocks from a great produce store--we're already eating more vegetables just because I like going there).

The thing that has revolutionized my canning is the use of a stockpot instead of a canning pot for canning in. It's deep enough, big enough for about half a dozen jars at a time, does not rust after a season or two like the enamel-ware, and is not a uni-tasker. This is one of those brilliant ideas that had never occurred to me before, but is mentioned in McClellan's book as a great option to a canning pot that takes up space and doesn't get used for anything besides canning. I still need to get a round rack to put in the bottom of it, but so far I've yet to break a jar in it.

The other thing that somehow never occurred to me in the past was the use of a candy thermometer to make sure I've reached the jelling stage. That makes a huge difference. I used to mostly end up with syrup instead of jam. Great on pancakes or waffles, not quite as great on toast. And I'm more of a toast person than pancakes or waffles, since I tend not to be hungry in the morning.

Once I check off the spiced plum jam tonight, I have plans for pickles and cantelope jam later this week. Should be fun. I'm rather enjoying the process of filling up the cupboards for the winter.

11 August 2014

after the move

We survived our move, and have been in our new home for about a week and a half. Thus far, things are going well. J. can walk to work, so he gets home an hour earlier than he used to, and E. hasn't had any meltdowns about being in a new place.

Most of our stuff is unpacked; I still have the sewing things to sort out, and none of our wall decorations are up yet. There are a couple random boxes in mine and J.'s bedroom whose contents we're not sure about.

Moving provides an interesting opportunity to get rid of things. We got rid of a lot of stuff before we moved, and then once we got the truck packed up, J. declared that we had too much junk and needed to get rid of more things. I've already made a couple trips to the thrift store to drop stuff off. We've given other things away, too. De-cluttering and organizing everything anew is a good process.

It helps that our new place doesn't have a giant storage closet like our old one did. Initially I wasn't too thrilled about that, but it means that things can't get lost in a black hole anymore. Instead of two bedroom closets, a large linen closet/hallway closet, a storage closet, and a storage alcove lined with shelves, we have a smaller linen closet, the two bedroom closets, and two tiny hallway closets (one of which is weirdly shallow and is a good space for the vacuum and broom). Oh, and the shelf over the washer and dryer (where all the cleaning supplies go).

The place as a whole is bigger, but part of that extra square footage is taken up with hallway space. E.'s room is slightly bigger than what she had in our place, but our room is slightly smaller. The kitchen and dining area is a better size, though. No dishwasher, but we're finding we keep the kitchen tidier without a dishwasher to make us lazy about it. Overall, we're quite happy with our new home.

We've done some exploring of the area. There are some lovely parks and trails nearby, and we're right in the downtown area of the city, so we are close to the library, grocery stores, produce store, and several bakeries. There's also a great gelato place. It's strange to be in a new town, but also rather lovely, too.

28 July 2014

kid's clothes week: after it's over

Geranium Dress-owls and foxes and hedgehogs, oh my!
I managed to muddle my way through KCW again. The picture above is another Geranium Dress, one size up from the usual. E. is growing, though when I popped it on her when it was finished, it was a bit big. And a little longer than expected. Not terribly so, but enough that it'll probably be a better choice of outfit next month. Maybe she'll wear it at her first birthday party (and no, we're not having a one-year-old extravaganza; we're having family, probably my parents and my SIL, since my in-laws aren't sure they can come and E.'s godparents are having a time of it getting new passports, and I'm using my cake pan that makes little rose-shaped cakes).

So, dress. I used a quilting cotton that I found at Mill End down in Portland at Christmas time. Some leftovers went into a set of coasters for a friend, and the other leftovers are waiting for me to make them into something. I love the fabric. It's adorable, and yes, rather more pink than I'd usually go with, but I don't actually hate pink. I just object to the "nothing but pink for little girls" attitude. I went with the pleated skirt this time, the faux-cap sleeve bodice, and the cut-out neckline. I did snaps on the back, without cursing. I wanted to do buttons, but all my buttons are in a box, and I didn't feel like digging them out.

We move on Thursday morning, and at this point, we're mostly packed up. I had one of my moving dreams last night, where I didn't have everything packed, people were loading up the truck for us, and I was out of boxes and then my grandmother called in the middle of the chaos about something. I've also had the dream where the previous tenants left behind a bunch of stuff, so the closets were all full of clothes and there was a full and very noisy campground next door.

I knocked out a couple of skirts in the last day or so of KCW. I based them off a paperbag skirt tutorial. The first one doesn't look quite how I envisioned, and is a little big in the waist. The second turned out just about right.

Skirt number 1: Not bad.

The basic pattern involves cutting a strip from selvage to selvage, seaming that into a tube, then hemming the bottom and top. The top gets an elastic waistband. I went with 12 inches, but didn't make my waistband as wide as I really should have, so the skirt is a little long. I went with E's waist measurement plus 1" for a seam allowance for the elastic, but that's a little bit loose. The material is some kind of cotton I found at the thrift store.

Skirt number 2: Much better.
 The second skirt was the same length, but I folded the waistband over more to get that lovely ruffle at the top, so it's just about the perfect length for E. right now. I also went with E.'s waist measurement without an additional seam allowance for the elastic. It stretches and doesn't slide down too much this way. This fabric is a corduroy from JoAnn's that I found at the thrift store. I have enough for one or two more skirts or possibly something else. I have ideas but haven't purchased the patterns yet.

I also finished a shawl I've been working on.

Batik Shawl
The pattern, Batik, is by Kitman Figeroa, and is available on Ravelry. I've had the pattern and the yarn for a while, and I finally got around to knitting it up. The yarn is one of the Kauni fingering weights. I love the long stripes in the Kauni colourways. I knit one ball up in shades of red a few years ago, and then bought this ball at Yarn Harvest that year. I knit the medium size of the shawl, since I didn't have quite enough for the large, and it's turned out beautifully. I get to show it off at knit-night tonight, then pack it away in a box for a couple days until we've moved.

And that's it for now. We'll be without internet for a day or so, since we move Thursday and the guy from Telus is supposed to show up on Friday. Let's hope that goes well. Last time it was a fiasco.

22 July 2014

KCW: Day 2

On track so far with KCW! I made a bonnet for E. yesterday for Day 2. I made her a sun hat a while back, and while it is fantastic, we've discovered that it's much harder for her to pull bonnets off and toss them on the ground while we're in transit. I have run over that poor sun hat so many times with the stroller.

I used the same pattern for this bonnet that I used a while back for E.'s pretty floral bonnet for her costume when we went to Fan Expo. The pattern is from MAKE, and it's a bonnet that was originally designed for upcycling vintage linens. The only vintage linens we have on hand were ones my great-grandmother and great-great grandmother made, so obviously, that won't do.

Pink fabric, purple and yellow rick-rack. No, it's not stereotypically girly at all.
 However, my fabric stash has a number of odds and ends in suitable amounts, so I ended up pulling out a very pink piece of floral-printed fabric. I don't usually often sew pink items for E. because we already have so much pink in her wardrobe, but this fabric suited the pattern well, and I had coordinating ric-rac on hand (is it rick-rack or ric-rac or either/or?).

This pattern let me practice some hand-sewing--after sewing the lining and outside together, you flip the bonnet right-side out and blind-stitch the gap together. I used to be terrible at doing blind-stitch--I kept mixing it up with whip-stitch and doing that instead, but I seem to have finally figured it out.

If I make another one (and I kind of want to), I want to line the bill with interfacing to make it a bit stiffer. The first time I made the pattern, I did the ruffled brim. This time I did the flat bill option, which I think I like better than the ruffle, but lack of interfacing on the bill means that it doesn't have as much structure as I think it should.

Baby in her new hat!
 E. seems to like the hat well enough. I showed it to her and she grabbed it and wandered off across the living room, waving it over her head. Shortly after that, she got distracted by a pair of sunglasses and abandoned the bonnet next to one of the many boxes decorating our home.

On the list for today: A new Geranium. We are moving up a size! 6-12 months, here we come!

21 July 2014

Kid's Clothes Week - Take 2

Well, I signed up for Kid's Clothes Week again. The latest round of it started yesterday and I'm making plans. And I got a headstart on it by sewing a baby dress Friday (I just couldn't stop myself). This is the Easy Summer Baby Dress from See Kate Sew.

I tweaked the pattern a little--I enlarged the bodice, which turned out to be an unneccessary change. E. can wear it as a jumper dress in the fall and winter, and as a slightly-too-big summer dress right now. It's also a bit long--blame it on how I cut out the dress so as to avoid weird skinny strips of fabric from the edge of the material. I whipstitched the lining over the seam at the bodice. The tutorial makes it sound like you just sew bodice, lining and outside, together to the skirt and then maybe zigzag or serge the edges of the seam and I preferred a neater finish. I could just be misreading the instructions, though. I accidentally set the straps a touch too far in. They're supposed to be at the very edge of the bodice and that didn't quite happen. Oh well. It works anyway.

What I love about this dress in particular, other than the simple construction (it took me an hour or so to make this, with the hand-sewing), is the straps. They are gathered with elastic and they make the whole thing look adorable. It's a simple thing to do, but it adds so much to the dress without being over the top.

It occurred to me when I signed up for KCW that it might not have been the smartest idea, what with us moving two weeks from now and all. Now that we're closer to time, I think committing to sewing for an hour or so a day will be a welcome distraction from the stress of moving. We've checked off some of the important things, like moving our hydro and internet and booking the truck. Now we're mostly at the "get more boxes and put stuff in them" stage. The really breakable things are nearly all packed, so I can put stuff in boxes around E. without worrying about her trying to help me unload them.

Sewing is a lovely break, and it uses up some of the fabric I have lurking around, so there's less to pack in the sewing supplies boxes. I've tidied up the sewing corner of the bedroom, so that's helped a bit. I've almost finished a tailor's ham that I've been stuffing with fabric scraps. It's not quite full enough, so I'll have to do a couple more projects and use up the leftover bits and pieces.

My first contribution for Kid's Clothes Week was another Easy Baby Summer Dress, this time in a purple rayon. Rayon and me don't usually get along very well, but I did much better with it this time. I suppose it's mostly a matter of practice, fabric weights, finished seams, and lots of pressing.

Not the greatest picture, but at least she's holding still.
After that, I think I may be more willing to sew with rayon. I may need to get a non-blurry picture of the dress later. E. is walking and getting faster every day. When she sees a camera, she just moves closer.

Next on the list for KCW: a summer bonnet, aka hat that babies have a harder time throwing on the ground. It's cut out and partially pieced at the moment. In a burst of "use up random fabric," I've ended up with a very, very pink creation. At least no one will assume she's a boy in that hat.

08 July 2014

Recent Discoveries

Recently I learned...

Washing cotton batting to pre-shrink it is a bad idea. It looks sturdy, but it does not like the washing machine. I now have less useable cotton batting than I had before, and more stuffing material.

We have close to a thousand books in our collection. I haven't finished cataloguing all the children's books, so my numbers aren't exact yet, but the unscientific estimate is "a lot." That number won't be dwindling anytime soon, either. The beautiful pine bookcase I bought for myself when I was a kid, that once housed my entire personal library, is now too small for our non-fiction collection. J.'s science reference books will be staying boxed up for a while after we move, just to make sure we have some shelf space.

Babies are very contrary creatures. When they are able to walk, they walk up to you and then insist that you need to pick them up and carry them.

Pretty much all of our wall decorations fit into one box. It's a good-sized box, to be sure, but it's just one. Whew.

I don't like summer. I knew this already, but I re-learned it again, like I do every year when the temperature soars.

Nutella goes well with apple slices.

You cannot buy crickets or any other type of insect at the local gourmet food store.

And lastly, cleaning the oven is far more annoying than vacuuming.

02 July 2014

reading notes: Pelkey's Mandarin Tone in Historical Epic Quest Perspective

I'm including this in my Reading Notes series in part because it's just a fantastic piece of work, and in part because I had the great privilege of working with the author several years ago as his teaching assistant in a course on historical linguistics and as his student in a directed studies course on semiotics. Only Jamin would come up with a work like this on the historic of Mandarin tone. 

Pelkey, Jamin. (2013). Mandarin tone in historical epic quest perspective. In Jones, Trey, Slater, Keith W., Spruiell, Bill, Pulju, Tim, & Peterson, David J., The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics (p. 43). Washington: Speculative Grammarian Press. Retrieved 1 July 2014 from www.academia.edu

Pelkey's summary of the development of tone in Mandarin is told in a unique fashion, via an epic poem. The tones are characterized as knights. The development of register is signified by the addition of a lady paired with each knight. The division and rivalry between characters and deaths over time reduce the tones back to four: high-level (first tone), rising (second tone), low-contour (third tone), and falling (fourth tone).

My own study of Chinese is very limited; I took an introductory year in the language during my undergrad and was very interested but at the time unable to continue with any subsequent courses. Since then, I have read a few articles on the subject, and when I took a course on tonal analysis, I went with any optional readings on sinitic tone that the instructor offered (the instructor's specialty was African tone, so the course leaned more heavily on that side of things). While I've no real idea whether I'll ever up going to China (given my seasonal/environmental allergies I might not fare too well in most cities there long-term), I've wanted to at least visit the country for a long time, and would like to learn more of the language, both from a speaker's and a linguist's perspective.

At any rate, I know the very basics of tone in Mandarin from learning a little of the language, and I do have some education in the development and analysis of tone, though it's not exactly a specialty of mine (when I TAed for phonology courses, I ended up doing the lectures on stress, the other category of suprasegmentals). And this poem was a delightful way to learn the outline of how tone developed in modern-day Mandarin. It makes me want to learn more. Thanks, Jamin, for rekindling an old interest when I finally have time to actually pursue it!

20 June 2014


In about six weeks, we will be moving. There are lot of reasons for the move. Closer to where my husband works (I work at home right now, so I just need an internet connection and my computer for work). The new place is cheaper and has laundry in-suite. And it's time. Counting the years J. and I were university students in this town, we've been here for almost a decade.

We're not moving out-of-province. We're not even moving to a different area of the province. But we are moving across the river, closer to Vancouver, and that's a big leap. The river acts as a barrier--crossing the bridge to go to one side or the other is an effort, especially since the tolls went into effect. A trip to Vancouver is a big, all-day deal right now and will suddenly be less so once we've moved. But a trip to visit J.'s grandmother, on the eastern (well, more southeastern) side of the river, will be more of an effort. We've decided that we can probably do two regular trips across the bridge a week. This will mostly be for church and the gaming group/movie night that we do with friends. I can come to my weekly knitting group once in a while, and my knitters' guild is only once a month, so that's doable. However, spontaneous, last-minute get-togethers with friends on the east side of the river won't be happening like they do now.

The change feels big. We're leaving an apartment that we've been very happy in. The landlord for our new place seems very competent, but we're friends of sorts with the managers of where we live now. They're familiar. Our neighbour down the hall, who has the same name as E., will miss us. We're still going to be close to a library and a grocery store, still close to the downtown core. But it will be a different downtown. Different people, different places.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

When we left our last apartment, it wasn't hard to go, even though that was the place we'd spent our first year and a half of marriage. Two freezing winters and one blazing summer there was more than enough. Our current home has been a good fit for a long time, and we are sad to leave,yet ready to go.

I've been examining the new city. We peered into the windows of the library the Sunday we looked at the suite, before we applied. We drove around the neighbourhood. There's a dim sum place, a donair place that J. says is really good, a few sushi places (it's the Lower Mainland, of course there is sushi), and there's a shop that sells Indian sweets (fresh jalebi!). The parks are lovely. The nearest used bookstore that I can find via Google is a drive or bus ride away, rather than a walk, but it's one that I've been wanting to check out. The nearest yarn stores are one that I know is fabulous, and one that I've yet to visit.

We've started packing up non-essentials, since we're moving end of July/beginning of August. I boxed up DVDs and some books today. We have so many books that I can box up quite a few before finding something to read becomes a hassle. E. doesn't really know what to make of the boxes, other than noticing that she has something else she can hold onto while walking. We recently took her on a camping trip that went very well, so I think she'll adjust to our new home fairly well.

And me? I don't love change. Or rather, I dislike the idea of change, but when it happens, I tend to do fine with it. I recently stopped by the linguistics department at my old school, since I was in the area, and said hi. And even though I had been there for a long time as a student, and the place and much of the staff are familiar, it's not the same anymore. I very much had the sense that I no longer belonged there, and that that wasn't a bad thing. That chapter in my life has come to a close. And the one here, in this home, is ending, too. And it's not bad. If nothing ends, then nothing new can start, and that would be a pity, wouldn't it?

17 June 2014

The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale was a fresh read for me. I've never seen it performed, I haven't had to read it for a class, and I'd never gotten around to just sitting down with it until now. I had heard good things about it, but I had always been unclear on the plot and the only thing I could really remember was that one of the primary female characters was named Hermione, and there was something about a statue. Now I've read it, and well, wow.

Winter's Tale gets bundled in with the comedies in my Complete Works, though it's not really comic. It has a happy ending, but it's better called a drama or a romance. The story is set at a break-neck pace, though it covers the span of sixteen years, and there are only a very few incidental moments (occurring in the last two acts), unlike with some of the other comedies. The comic subplot is a character whose business is thieving and meddling.

I was tempted to title this post, "The Winter's Tale, or, Pregnancy Makes Men Crazy, Too," because the events of the first three acts happen so quickly and so strangely that I'm half-way convinced Leontes is an early example in English literature of couvade's syndrome. Listen to this:

Leontes, King of Silicia, and his wife, Hermione, are expecting their second child. They already have an heir, Mamillius, a cheeky boy of indeterminate age. Leontes' best friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia, has been visiting for the last nine months. He announces his intention to go home, Leontes pleads with him not to go, Polixenes stays firm, and then Hermione persuades him to stay. Leontes promptly loses it. He becomes convinced that his beloved wife has been cheating on him with his best friend for the last nine months, and that the baby she's carrying must be a bastard. He assigns a nobleman to murder Polixenes, but Camillo refuses to do it (killing a king, historically, proves to be very bad luck for the assassin), warns Polixenes, and flees with him back to Bohemia. Leontes, however, is still on a murderous rampage. He sends for the oracle of Apollo to testify as to his wife's chastity and has her imprisoned. Everyone thinks he's gone nuts. When she delivers a baby girl who looks exactly like Leontes, he wants to have the baby killed immediately. One of his nobles persuades him to relent, so king decrees that Antigonus, the noble, should take the baby to some remote place and just leave her there (a literary device found in Oedipus Rex, among others, and based on the Greek and Roman practice of exposing an unwanted newborn child to the elements and animals outside the city). Antigonus' wife, Paulina, has argued staunchly in the favour of the queen, but the king refuses to listen to reason.

Then the messengers from the oracle arrive. The decree is that Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and the king should acknowledge his daughter and have her rescued post-haste, or the kingdom will be in jeopardy for want of an heir. The king, still crazy, shouts that Apollo is a liar and the trial will go on. Suddenly, a messenger arrives with the news that the king's son and heir, Mamillius, has died from grief over his father's actions. Hermione collapses, and suddenly Leontes is no longer crazy. Hermione is taken from the room and Paulina returns to announce her death. The king is stricken with grief--his wife, heir, and daughter are all lost to him.

Meanwhile, Antigonus is attempting to fulfill the king's wishes while preserving the child's life. He lays her down in a remote area with some indicators of her identity, names her Perdita, and then, when he sees his ship sink in a sudden storm, is about to hang it all and just save the kid when a bear (yes, a bear!) appears and pursues him offstage. Perdita is found by a shepherd and a clown. The shepherd adopts the baby.

Sixteen years go by. In Bohemia, Polixenes' son, Florizel, has fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of a shepherd. Camillo, now attendant on Polixenes, brings Polixenes to the sheep-shearing celebration hosted by Perdita and her adopted father to soften his heart towards Florizel's intended. When Polixenes learns that not only does Florizel want to marry a peasant, he also has no intention of informing his father, he grows angry, shouts some rubbish about destroying Perdita's beauty because of her pretensions, and storms off. Camillo convinces Florizel and Perdita to go to Silicia to make amends with Leontes on Polixenes' behalf, sends them off, and heads out to tell Polixenes in the hopes of returning to Silicia and bringing about reconciliations with everyone. Meanwhile, the shepherd and the clown also head out to tell Polixenes about the stuff they'd found with Perdita, in hopes of sparing themselves torture (obviously, they can't read the letters they found with Perdita which establish her identity as the princess of Silicia. Fortunately, Polixenes can).

Perdita and Florizel arrive in Silicia, followed by Camillo and Polixenes. Leontes has been grieving for sixteen years, refusing to remarry to atone for his sins. Paulina extracts a promise from him that he will only marry at her behest and of her choosing, and only a woman exactly like Hermione. The reunion between Polixenes and Leontes takes place off-stage, as does the revelation that Perdita is Leontes' lost daughter. The events are discussed by two other characters.

Then the really crazy thing happens. Paulina invites them all to her house to see a statue of Hermione that she has comissioned. It is recently finished and has just been painted to be exactly as Hermione would be, were she alive now. It is so lifelike that Leontes wishes to kiss it, and begs his wife's forgiveness. And the statue comes to life. Hermione is alive, her daughter is alive, and Leontes and Polixenes are reconciled. It's never made clear whether Hermione was just in hiding all those years, or if she really was restored to life. There's evidence for either reading in the text. The story has a happy ending, though Antigonus and Mamillius are both still dead, victims of Leontes' temporary insanity (and of the lack of safeguards to prevent a king suffering temporary insanity from wreaking havoc).

I very much enjoyed the play, though it is much weaker in the last two acts than in the first three, which are absolutely riveting. Most of the sheep-shearing scene is completely irrelevant, and Autolycus, the subplot guy, is pretty superfluous, too. I'd like to see this performed and watch how it works out on stage. The disadvantage of reading Shakespeare is that a play is harder to follow when read than prose. Like a number of Shakespeare's works, Winter's Tale contains a couple of choice female roles: both Hermione and Paulina have some good speeches, especially in the first half of the show, and the story bears them out as in the right.

One thing I keep noticing with Shakespeare is his tendency to sprinkle names throughout the text that don't match up to the locale. Polixenes is from Bohemia. Polixenes is a Greek name. Florizel, also from Bohemia, sounds vaguely Italian. Perdita is Latin ("lost," the root of such lovely words as "perdition"). Leontes and Hermione are both Greek names (and Hermione states that she is the daughter of the Russian Emperor), and Paulina is Latin. I suppose Shakespeare assumed the names were roughly from the same area and thought they sounded good. And it's not as though names can't spread from one area to another, or be old enough for us to forget where they came from. 

And so, with The Winter's Tale, we close out the comedies and move on to the histories. The Life and Death of King John will be our next stop in the Shakespeare canon.


"Be pilot to me and thy places shall
Still neighbour mine." Polixenes, The Winter's Tale, I.2.577-578

"Were I the ghost that walk'd, I'ld bid you mark
Her eye, and tell me for what dull part in't
You chose her; then I'ld shriek, that even your ears
Should rift to hear me; and the words that follow'd
Should be 'Remember mine.' " Paulina, The Winter's Tale, V.1.2897-2901

"Such a deal of wonder is
broken out within this hour that ballad-makers
cannot be able to express it." Second Gentleman, The Winter's Tale, V.2.3130-3132

"If ever truth were pregnant by
circumstance." Third Gentleman, The Winter's Tale. V.2.3139-3140

31 May 2014

A Follow-Up to the Story on FFF

My breastfeeding/formula feeding story is over at Fearless Formula Feeder today. Suzanne Barston's book, Bottled Up, was something I stumbled across during early pregnancy and read. The resources she offers on formula feeding were invaluable as we made the transition from breastmilk to formula, and I was much less distraught about the choice because I'd read a more thorough discussion of some of the studies on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. My submission to FFF ends shortly after we made the switch to formula and saw the drastic difference 2-3 bottles a day had made in our child. Here's where we are now:

E. is nine months old. Several days ago, she took her first, unaided, unsupported steps. She still definitely prefers help when walking, but she's not far from taking off running on her own. She's still a tiny child, but she was less than six pounds when she popped out, so that's not suprising. She's about fifteen pounds now, and on track to triple her birthweight over the next few months, just like the books say she should.

She loves food. Yesterday she tried eggplant for the first time and was pretty interested in it. The list of solid foods she can eat is growing, and so far, she has no food allergies. We've tried her on a number of the major potential allergens and nothing's been a problem yet.

We're down to one breastfeed a day. Back in February, I learned that I had gallstones and would require surgery to have my gallbladder removed. I started slowly dropping our daytime breastfeeds because I knew it would be easier afterwards if she wasn't as dependent on the breast by then. The "morning snack" feed went easily, but the afternoon one, the one she relied on to propel her into her afternoon nap, took more convincing. In the process, she discovered soothers (Canadian word for pacifiers, for any Americans reading), and now uses those to get to sleep, rather than nursing or a bottle. Once we were down to breastfeeding only in the evenings, night, and early morning, I called it good for the moment. Then she dropped her middle-of-the-night breastfeed, followed by the early morning one. The evening breastfeed is the only one left. She seems to want to make sure the breasts are still there, but isn't as into it as she used to be. The feeds don't last long, and she keeps getting distracted. She isn't quite ready to stop, but I don't yet know how much longer it will be.

My surgery was just over a week ago. The first three evenings after, I didn't nurse E. Between the incisions on my abdomen and the codeine in my pain medication, it just didn't seem like a good idea. Once I'd switched over to normal Tylenol, I put her back on the breast. I'm still making milk, which sort of surprised me. We'll see how much longer she keeps going with it. I don't want to nurse past a year, but I'm willing to keep going until then.

She's pretty happy about formula. She can hold a bottle on her own now, and often, after she finishes it, she lies back on her pillow (handy use for a breastfeeding pillow, by the way), and sings to the empty bottle. She gets grouchy when she sees me mixing it up and she's not getting it fast enough, or when it's too cold for her taste.

We've ended up with the Costco brand of formula. If you just need regular formula, or even sensitive formula, this is definitely a great way to go, pricewise. The stuff they sell at the Costcos here in Canada appears to be fairly similar to Similac, which was the one E. responded to best. Our go with the Nestle samples was not encouraging--she didn't like it and the formula made her extremely gassy. The one time we tried the Costco formula from the States, we discovered it was weirdly frothy and came in smaller canisters than the kind here in Canada (other than that, it was fine).

Formula's been a good fit for us. E. rarely gets sick, and is gaining weight normally. She often ends up being a little skinny around the middle because she'll have a growth spurt and get taller, but her arms and legs have an appropriate amount of baby chubbiness. She's finally willing to sleep most of the night on her own in the crib, though we're still convincing her it's safe to fall asleep on her own. My worries now mostly revolve around whether or not she'll find something on the floor I've missed and eat it or whether she's going to start climbing soon, not about whether or not she's starving.

Our Milk Saga? Not really so much of a saga anymore. Drama gone. Baby happy. Parents sane. Life is good. 

25 May 2014

book musings: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

I don't remember how I ran across Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. All I know is that the hold list for it at the library was extravagantly long, a waiting list that reminded me of the wait for Downton Abbey, Series One. I got it just after E. was born and spent some of those early days with a newborn reading the book while I nursed her. Those days are very blurred now (thank God), but I did remember the book.

While we were down in Portland for the Christmas holidays, I picked it up during one of our trips to Powell's, since I'd enjoyed it enough to purchase it (current rule for incoming books: re-readability). The conversational style of writing is not for everyone, I realize, but it's one that I rather enjoy. The series of recipes interspersed with Jennifer Reese's adventures into how to save money versus how not to save money on cooking makes for an entertaining read. I don't agree with her assessment on everything, of course, but that's to be expected (Mexican food--if you want decent Mexican food around here, you're usually better off making it, like we do. She lives in California, so it's to be expected that better and cheaper Mexican food can be found there. I'm still working on figuring out corn tortillas--they are deceptively difficult for me while macarons are pretty easy).

The first recipe I attempted was her cured salmon. I'm a convert. We love fish, especially salmon, and we especially love it raw, either sashimi-style, smoked, or cured. The first batch I made was gone in a day and a half. I haven't really tried it since, as good quality salmon is spendy, but we know it's good and easy. My next attempt at it will use a different spice blend, since the coriander mix in the recipe is nice, but I think the coriander is a bit overwhelming.

I've tinkered with a few other things from the book so far. The pancake recipe was a little thinner than we needed it to be, though it was delicious. I plan to try her yogurt recipe. We went through a homemade yogurt phase several years ago when we were making a yogurt-based bread all the time, but I'd never strained out the whey to get thicker yogurt. We always ended up with yogurt the consistency of milk--good for baking, not for plain eating.

And I love the book for the reading and the inspiration. Reese's forays into owning chickens and goats are amusing, and her beekeeper saga is interesting, though ultimately unsuccessful. There are a few recipes in there that I probably won't try (homemade deep-fried potato chips) and a few that I will (cream cheese, once I track down the needed culture), and some that I may or may not give a go. I've tried making my own vanilla extract, to great success (though now I need a few more vanilla beans and another bottle of bourbon to top it off--we're starting to run low), and I've made my own butter just to see what it was like. The spirit of the book is not entirely about frugality--sometimes the homemade is more expensive, but so much better that it doesn't matter. The extra effort is often worth it. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter makes me want to actually get around to making that bread, which I've been doing more and more often, with greater success.

24 May 2014

reading notes: I and Thou - Kaufmann's Prologue

"Reading Notes" is a new series, of sorts. I have a growing collection of academic literature that I keep intending to start reading, and then I don't always get around to reading things, or I start and then don't finish books. To motivate myself, and to collect some of my responses to what I read, I'll write a post on the chapter or article. The format is not unlike what I used in a readings course in grad school. I'll organize my thoughts, and maybe some of my readers will follow along. 

This is not an academic review, per se. This is a mixture of summary and my own thoughts on and responses to this work. As I and Thou is a somewhat religious work in nature, my own faith (Lutheran-ish with some strongly Catholic leanings) will inform my responses and interpretations. You have been warned.

Buber, Martin. (1996). I and thou: A new translation with a prologue "I and you" and notes by Walter Kaufmann. Walter Kaufmann (Trans.). New York: Touchstone.

I started reading Buber's I and Thou a number of years ago, and kept having to return it to the library when I got part-way into it and then found myself caught up with end-of-semester coursework. Eventually, I added it to my "to buy" list and then picked it up at Powell's down in Portland over Christmas. Now I'm actually going to finish it, make some notes and underline things in my very own copy (yes, in pencil, for those who wince at the idea of writing in a book), and hopefully it will go well. I start with Kaufmann's prologue, which requires another citation:

Kaufmann, Walter. (1996). I and you: A prologue. In Buber, Martin, I and thou: A new translation with a prologue "I and you" and notes by Walter Kaufmann (pp. 9-48). Walter Kaufmann (Trans.). New York: Touchstone.

I suppose it's not uncommon to skip the prologue if it's by another author, but I like prologue and introductions, and this one seemed particularly important, as even the best translator will bring their own biases to their work, and it's well to be aware of those biases as one reads. My summary/opinions of/responses to the prologue are followed by a few quotes I particularly liked.

Kaufmann's prologue to I and Thou, originally written in 1970, provides a background to both the book itself and Kaufmann's translation in particular. Kaufmann summarizes some of Buber's background and the context in which Ich und Du was written. He baldly states that, in comparison to his other works, that this one is overwritten to the point where many (if not most) readers will be unable to understand much of the book. To readers, he states, this "seems palpable proof of profundity" (p. 24). He goes so far as to describe I and Thou as more overwritten than Nietzsche's Zarathustra (I find Zarathustra more amusing than illuminating, and Nietzsche's expressed views on women in that work are abhorrent. My fondness for Nietzsche does not override my bemused response to the odd journey that is Zarathustra, which for me is reminiscent of works such as the second half of the book of Daniel and many of the Gnostic gospels). Kaufmann's note is that "Buber's delight in language gets between him and his readers" (p. 19), which may well be true. I love fine writing, even if I cannot always understand it, and my previous attempts at the book have convinced me that I can at least enjoy the book, even if I do not understand it, and Buber is, at least, not as confusing as Homi Bhabha.

Kaufmann strongly emphasizes the Jewishness of Buber's work, something he states is frequently overlooked. He takes time to provide a less familiar reader with some background on the Hebrew concept of God, and contrasts it with the Christian concept of God. He does state that his reading of the Hebrew idea (God as I-You) versus the Christian idea (God as I-It), are his interpretations of those relationships, and should not be attributed to Buber. My own response to his statements here is that we are all prone to see God as I-It, God as object, even if we are not to make a graven image. For me, a Lutheran, the Eucharist is not God as object in the bread and wine, but a profound experience with God as person, with God made flesh, a God who so longed for the people God created to know God as person. Images or representations of God do not have to divide us from God as person; I think they are often meant to help us remember to seek out God as person, rather than God as object. Naturally, it doesn't always work out that way in practice.

One of the most salient discussions in this prologue is Kaufmann's articulation of his philosophy of translation. His own attitudes are inspired by Buber's own work in translation. Kaufmann argues that it is his duty as a translator to suss out the author's intended meaning, and translate that as closely as possible, even if this leads to a less idiomatic translation, or in the case of poetry, a less poetic translation (this, he states, is an argument for reading poetry in the original if possible). I happen to rather like this philosophy. It's a departure from what I would have heard at school, where the translation courses took a slightly different tack. I believe the emphasis was on as idiomatic as possible, but with as much attention paid to getting the author's intent across as well. The courses never fit in with my schedule or interests, so I'm guessing on what classmates said and what occasionally came up in other courses. However, Kaufmann's philosophy of translation dovetails with my own reading instincts. For example, I prefer prose translations of Beowulf, since Old English poetic styles don't work well with modern English, which is structurally quite different. You can sacrifice meaning for poetry or poetry for meaning, and I tend to go for meaning over poetry. At any rate, his philosophy of translation is followed with a discussion of his choices of translation for certain words in the text (so it would behoove the reader to read that section of the prologue at minimum), and he states his intent to be as faithful to Buber's text as possible has affected the style of the book: "The style is not the best part of this book, but it is a part and even an important part of it. Nobody has to chew passage upon passage more slowly than a translator who takes his work seriously and keeps revising his draft. . . . But once he starts making an effort to improve upon his text, keeping only the most brilliant plays on words while leaving out and not calling attention to inferior ones, possibly substituting his own most felicitous plays for ones he could not capture, where is he to stop on the road to falsehood?" (p. 43). This attitude of reverence towards the text and its author is much to be appreciated. It's impossible, I think, for the translator to entirely avoid his own interpretation, but to acknowledge that those are there and to do one's best to not include them is admirable.

And that's the prologue. On to Buber and Part One!

"The straight philosophers tend to celebrate one of the two worlds [e.g. matter and mind] and depreciate the other. The literary tradition is less Manichaean" (p. 18).

"Buber taught me that mysticism need not lead outside the world. Or if mysticism does, by definition, so much the worse for it" (p. 23).

"Buber's most significant ideas are not tied to his extraordinary language. Nor do they depend on any jargon. . . . The sacred is here and now. The only God worth keeping is a God who cannot be kept. The only God worth talking about is a God that cannot be talked about. God is no object of discourse, knowledge, or even experience. He cannot be spoken of, but he can be spoken to; he cannot be seen, but he can be listened to. The only possible relationship with God is to address him and to be addressed by him, here and now - or, as Buber puts it, in the present" (pp. 25-26).

"As a translator, I have no right to use the text confronting me as an object with which I may take liberties. It is not there for me to play with or manipulate. I am not to use it as a point for departure or anything else. It is the voice of a person that needs me. I am there to help him speak" (p. 40).

06 May 2014

A response to Mother's Day

I'm dreading Mother's Day.

A year ago, I was pregnant and sick. I'd just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and was having a hard time dealing with my body's inability to handle food normally while I was pregnant. I felt like a crap mother. And suddenly everyone was wishing me happy Mother's Day. The words made me flinch. I wanted to punch the next person who said them to me. I wanted to burst into tears. I didn't want to be reminded of what a terrible mother I was.

Photo credit: http://www2.uncp.edu/ip/images/Coffee&News.jpg
Mother's Day is something that my mum has never particularly liked celebrating. As she said one year, all she wanted was for us to let her read the Sunday paper and drink her coffee in peace. She didn't want gifts or flowers or breakfast in bed, just some time to herself. And she didn't want to make a big deal out of it, or guilt-trip us into celebrating the holiday. So it was far from a significant holiday for us, and the only reason it might be emotionally fraught was that she didn't like it.

As an adult, my experience with this particular greeting-card holiday has involved whatever my church happened to be doing on the day. The sermon varies, depending on which pastor is preaching. And the youth group hands out flowers to the mothers in the congregation. Usually I ended up with a leftover flower, with one of the older members of the congregation saying cheerfully that I was a "future mother." I didn't mind the flower, but I did mind the assumption that I would have a child at some point. During those years, I was wildly ambivalent about the idea of having children and half-way convinced that, given how many people seemed to have trouble having children, we would too.

This year is different, of course. My daughter is nearly nine months old, almost walking, babbling away with an assortment of sounds, and curious about everything. I am a mother, though I prefer the words "parent" or "mum." And I am a good parent. Not perfect, naturally, but I've managed to keep her alive, healthy, and happy. I think that means we're doing okay.

And yet, I can't forget the woman last year who wasn't sure whether she would need to hide in the bathroom during the sermon to avoid an overenthusiastic endorsement of mothers and a litany of how great they were. I can't forget her, how she flinched away from a friend who tried to wish her a happy Mother's Day, accompanied by a pat on her pregnant stomach, how she turned away, but couldn't bear to explain why she was hurrying away. I can't forget how she gripped the rose she was handed and how part of her wished it still had its thorns. I can't forget how she cried and cried that weekend. I can't forget, because she is me.

Photo credit: gamespe.com
So I'm dreading Mother's Day. I cringe when I see my favourite sewing blogs talking about gift projects for mums. That video about motherhood being the toughest job ever just made me want to shout at its producers. I'm grateful that my daughter wants to get up and move around during church, because it means that I can hide in the nursery with her if the sermon ends up extolling the virtues of motherhood. All Mother's Day is doing is making me relive the overwhelming guilt and misery I experienced last year. It's soon for me to have let go of it completely, and the fact that it's tied in with being a mum just makes it that much more powerful, and harder to ignore.

I love my daughter. But I can't appreciate this holiday.

29 April 2014

book musings: Tamsin

I recently had the opportunity to meet Peter S. Beagle at Fan Expo Vancouver. He was very personable and signed my ancient copy of The Last Unicorn for me. He also signed the book I bought at his table and told me he was so glad I'd bought that one because it had been fun to write. I bought it partly because of the title and the cover, and partly because, well, I haven't really read much of his other works beside The Last Unicorn. Beagle's works are one of those things I keep intending to get around to and then never do. I am now remedying that lack in my education.

I bought a copy of Tamsin, which was first published about fifteen years ago. Jenny, the protagonist, is a teenager from New York whose mother marries an Englishman and takes Jenny and her cat off to a rural farm in Dorset. Her stepfather is restoring the farm for the owners, and the house itself is in an extreme state of disrepair. Jenny, her mother, and her stepbrothers are doing their best to help with the restoration, but strange things keep happening that slow them down or simply irritate them. The guesses at the cause range from boggarts to poltergeists. Eventually, Jenny meets Tamsin.

Tamsin is a ghost, daughter of the first owner of the farmer. She doesn't remember why she is still stuck there, and her memories of the past come and go, but she and Jenny become friends. As Jenny learns more of Tamsin's story, she becomes convinced that something terrible must have happened. Events begin to conspire to right an ancient wrong and Jenny finds herself a crucial part of the action.

I took this book slowly (for me). It took me nearly a week to finish it, which is quite unusual. I wanted my first time through the story to take a while. I wanted to savour it. Typically, I gulp my books down and then read them again. Tamsin will be a multiple-read, but I liked taking my time with the story. It worked well for this one.

I did have my doubts about the narrator--she's nineteen at the time she is telling the story, but the events happened when she was thirteen. Thirteen-year-olds always think that they are more mature than they actually are, but it took me a couple chapters to accept Jenny as a narrator, since believing yourself to be more mature does not necessarily equal maturity.

What I did love was how gradually the plot unfolded. The climax didn't rush in and take me by surprise, and it didn't take up the last quarter of the book (which happens in one of my favourite novels, but is a rather extreme choice). The climax happened, and we then proceeded smoothly to the denouement (hardest part of writing for me, always, so I admire well-executed ones).

The look at Dorset is also rather delightful, since that is a portion of the UK that hasn't often been mentoned in the books I read. Now I want to track down audio examples of the old Dorset accent to see if Beagle's transliteration of it is anything like the reality (hazard of being a linguist). And I learned a little bit of English history that I hadn't studied much before (albeit fictionalized, with ghosts).

All in all, I'd recommend the book, especially if, like me, you're an avid reader of anything by the late Diana Wynne Jones.

21 April 2014

book musings: French Kids Eat Everything

I encountered the book, French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon, when reading some of the blog posts for the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting on food and eating habits over the summer. One of the bloggers referenced Le Billon's book, so I looked it up, discovered that the author lives in Vancouver (local writer!), and got the book at the library. Now I'm finally getting around to writing up my reaction.

I've read bits of it out loud to J., who asked, "Why is it always the people from Vancouver who do an interesting life experiment and then write about it?" (Earlier that year, I read him The 100 Mile Diet, written by a pair of Vancouverites). I don't know what it is about the air or water or landscape that drives us to do this,but the results are interesting. French Kids Eat Everything is certainly a useful read, given that our child is starting to eat solids now.. Not all the principles that I lokked will be applicable right away, but once we started introduce solid food, there were some ideas that I found very helpful.

For example, it's apparently typical for French parents to have their children try many different foods many times. They don't worry if the child doesn't like it right away. They just introduce the food again at a later date. They don't assume that the first exposure to something new will "take." This reflects my own experience with food as a child. For a long time, I disliked mushrooms and wasn't terribly fond of onions. I wasn't too keen on cooked spinach, either. When our exchange students from Taiwan made us seaweed soup when I was five, I was not enthused. This has changed. Drastically.

There were, of course, things I didn't like. The general French approach to parenting and food is far more rigid than what I would prefer. Here doctors recommend feeding on demand with infants, but in France, they're on a schedule quite early. I do a bit better with the North American version, since having to adhere to a strict schedule doesn't always work for me (with some things, it's great, but if my child is hungry and screaming, I'll feel a lot better about feeding her rather than waiting until the clock says it's time). We have a rough schedule for E., but I don't want her to be so dependent on the routine that a change in it throws her off.

However, the emphasis on the variety of foods, limited snacking (something I need to implement more in my own life), and insisting that your child tries foods regardless of whether or not they like them on the first try, are principles that I appreciate.

From the beginning, E. has been given a variety of foods. On the list on the side of the fridge of things she can eat are the usual bananas and rice cereal, but we've also given her tofu and asparagus. Recently, we checked off most of the major allergens (just nuts, peanuts, and shellfish to go!). Since she's only about 8 months old, she tends to make a face at new flavours and then try them anyway. She is, I must say, far more interested in what we're eating than in what she has. She dumped her snack on the floor the other day and crawled over to demand my eggs and toast. Last week we were able to give her a meal that was basically what we were eating, except her fish was cooked separately and unseasoned. It's nice to finally be able to do that, though we're still figuring out what works and doesn't work for her food-wise. It looks like strawberries may be a problem (but the problem could also be our laundry soap or several other things, so we're still trying to figure out what's making her look like she has acne). We still can't feed her exactly what we're eating yet, but it'll be nice when we can. Next on the list is probably broccoli. Steamed.