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. 

19 April 2014

Kid's Clothes Week: Wrap-Up

Yes, I know it's almost a week past the end of KCW. But I did accomplish my goals, and there are clothes.

Geranium Dress in a rocket ship print
I stuck with the Geranium dress View 2: pleats, faux cap sleeves, and skipped the pockets. This one is dress-length, snaps up the back, and the lining does not entirely match the outer fabric. I ran out of the rocket ship print and subbed in some galaxy fabric (planets, stars, swirling galaxies) for the two back pieces of the lining. Not really noticeable, but it kind of makes me smile anyway.

Geranium Top--my mum's holding it and E. is sitting there in the foreground
I did a top-length Geranium dress with the notched neckline and it came out beautifully. I love it. It looks really cute on E. and she seemed happy enough with it. She doesn't seem to have very many clothing preferences yet, other than enjoying chewing on shoes and playing with fabric.

I also did a crossover pinafore jumper, but it's still too big for E. The 6-12 month size (only size pattern came in, since it was a free pattern) was much too roomy on her, so when I tried it on, it looked kind of funny. Maybe she can wear it during the summer. We'll try it again in June.

Took a break from sewing this week, but I have a few more dresses on the list. A friend just had a baby girl who is, as a newborn, almost as big as E. I'm going to make a Geranium dress for her and try out the gathered skirt option.

13 April 2014

Romeo and Juliet

I keep intending to finish off the comedies and then move into the histories properly, but for some reason, I'm stuck in the first act of Winter's Tale and can't get past it yet. So here's my thoughts on a play I've read before, for at least two different English courses. We're skipping ahead briefly to the tragedies. 

Romeo and Juliet is not the easiest play for me to write about. Like many kids, I had to read it in grade nine, and I hated it. Two idiots falling in love, making a series of stupid mistakes, and then killing themselves, is not my idea of a good story. "They're morons," I thought. "Why on earth do people idolize this story?"

Then I watched Season 2 of Slings and Arrows. Romeo and Juliet is the secondary plot in that season, and the treatment of the play there transformed how I responded to the play. The language is beautiful and draws me in, and I have been able to accept the story more. The characters are not wise, and in that sense, they represent most teenagers. I too, fell in love all of a sudden with someone I barely knew when I was only fourteen. I made an idiot of myself, and the only reason I didn't make any really colossal mistakes was that he wasn't interested (and years later it occurred to me that he could have done a lot of damage had he been a certain sort of guy, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I'd escaped that. Embarrassment was far preferable). After acknowledging that, it's easier for me to put myself into the main characters' minds. I would never have gone so far as suicide, but their passion is more understandable when I remember how I was in my early teens. I can empathize.

Despite my new-found empathy for the story, I still don't love this play. Romeo starts it off in love with another girl, Rosaline, and crashes a party hosted by his family's enemies, the Capulets, in order to see her. Then he spots Juliet Capulet, and the young Montague instantly forgets what's-her-name, and makes it his mission to conquer a different girl's heart. I almost wrote, "to nail Juliet" instead, but though I'd guess his interest in her is primarily sexual, he does appear to be emotionally involved as well. The two of them talk in the famous balcony scene, make plans to run away and marry, do so, and then before Romeo kills Juliet's cousin for murdering his best friend, and is banished from the city. Juliet is heart-broken, especially when her parents suddenly decide to marry her off to another man. As she can hardly tell them she's secretly married her cousin's killer, she fakes her death with the help of the friar who had conducted their marriage. He sends word to Romeo to come fetch Juliet. Unfortunately, Romeo receives the news of Juliet's death first. He arrives in Verona to find Juliet's intended lurking around her tomb, kills him, then kisses his beloved goodbye and downs a vial of poison. Then, of course, Juliet wakes up. As Romeo has been so inconsiderate as to consume all the poison, Juliet makes use of her husband's dagger to kill herself. In the aftermath of their children's suicides, the Capulets and Montagues reconcile.

See? Disappointing. I'm not inclined to think of suicide as romantic, so it just seems like a tragedy of morons and miscommunication. But it is a tragedy of morons with pretty language, so it does have some redeeming qualities. Just a couple of quotes this time, though.


"Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean." Romeo and Juliet, I.1.4 This one somehow resonates with me--a poetic comment on the darkness overlaying these so-called 'civil' people, these nobles who can't stop killing each other.

"Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops." Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, III.5.7-10 The third line here is most often quoted, but a little context shows that the speech is even more lovely.

10 April 2014

Kids Clothes Week: Day 4

Okay, I promised pictures. I managed to take a few pictures of my first attempt at Geranium:

Geranium in an animal alphabet print
This is the 3-6 month size. E. is nearly 8 months, but the bodice is loose enough to be comfortable and give a little room to grow, and the skirt's a bit long on her. Yes, my child is tiny. I did "View B": pleated skirt, faux-cap sleeves, with the optional cut-out neckline. I skipped the pockets, though I have a version of this planned with a contrasting bodice and skirt that may get pockets made of the bodice fabric.

I mostly-finished another one yesterday in a rocketship print, and another one is cut out: a stars and planets print skirt and a green bodice. Those are all pleated skirts with the faux-cap sleeves, but I'm planning to try the gathered skirt at some point, too, and I have one set of fabrics picked out that I think would work will with the flutter sleeve.

My parents are coming for a visit this weekend, so I'm not sure if I'll hit the requisite time-length of an hour a day or not. I've managed a couple days where I got in a couple hours so I'm not going to worry too much if Saturday's a wash. This is for fun, after all.

08 April 2014

Kid's Clothes Week: Day 2

I managed to make E.'s suspenders yesterday, and get more things cut out. I'm counting prep time (cutting, pressing, etc) as sewing time for the purposes of this project. She doesn't do long naps very well most of the time, so I end up cutting out a few things, or sewing a few seams, and then going to get her because she's awake again. Or she tries to get into the dresser in the bedroom while I sit and sew and keep an eye on her. This is mostly successful but requires me to pause frequently.

Today: more cutting, more pressing, and a bodice for a Geranium dress put together. Then the skirt. The pleats are a little off, but it's my first time doing the pattern. I'll learn. Hemming and snaps to go! Pictures tomorrow.

06 April 2014

clearing a space

I don't like de-cluttering. It's annoying and messy and takes forever and at the end of it, I have stuff to haul to the garbage bin, the recycling bin, and the thrift store.

And we like clutter. J. and I are not minimalists, and I don't think we ever will be. We like books too much for that. He's into board games, and I'm into fiber arts. Both are hobbies that take up space.

But we do have stuff that needs to go. We really do. When I was in the process of sorting out E.'s bedroom so we could finally move her in there, I found a box. I opened it. Inside was a random assortment of stuff that I hadn't wanted to sort through when I was clearing our dresser top so I could put the changing pad on it. It had gotten stuffed in the spare room, and forgotten again. I sighed and took it to the living room, where E. was napping, and dumped it out. I sorted. I tossed. Her closet still isn't properly sorted, and her room is also home to the pieces of a giant desk that we're trying to give away on craigslist and Freecycle.

I feel better for it, but I don't think it's a process I'll ever love. I was the child who, when we remodeled our 60's-era bathroom, insisted on keeping a chunk of pea-soup green pebble-patterned linoleum. I later tossed it, but that's how attached I could get to things. Change was devastating.

On the other hand, I like to organize things. I just don't like getting rid of them. But I'm doing it. Slowly. I'm going through my closet and winnowing down my wardrobe. I'm opening boxes of random things and realizing that at least half of them are junk that we should have tossed last time we moved. I found cards from our wedding nearly six years ago that I haven't looked at since and had no intention of keeping, so those went into the recycling. It's a work in progress, and it's being done partly with an eye on our plan to move sometime in the next year or so. The more junk we deal with now, the less we'll need to pack up when we move.

I've never been great at keeping things uncluttered and tidy. It's not my forte. I'm a little better at it now that a tiny person is crawling around and throwing things on the floor, but our place still looks messy. I like the way things look when they are clean, but I think I'd be uncomfortable if our home was spotless and perfect. A clear space is good. A pristine space is maddening.

So I'll settle for clearing a space and hoping it stays that way for a little while.

Kid's Clothes Week starts tomorrow!

I'm participating in Kid's Clothes Week this season. The goal is to sew for about 1 hour per day for seven days. It starts tomorrow. I'm starting tomorrow off small. Baby suspenders and some cutting out of fabric. Also a trip to the fabric store, because I need more snaps. Hammering them in place the wrong way down and cursing them meant a lot of the snaps are now longer usable.

The suspenders are for E.'s Captain Malcolm Reynolds costume for Fan Expo in a couple weeks. I got a bit ahead of myself for once and sewed her pretty floral bonnet together today. Shirt and pants are already sorted, so now she just needs the suspenders. I'm still finalizing my Kaylee costume, and J. is going as Wash. He has the Hawaiian shirt but nothing else yet. Yes, we are geeks.

Also on the list for this week are two Geranium tops. This is a fabulous pattern and I'm excited to finally get going on it. It has several variations available, and I have the newborn-5T size, so I'll be making Geraniums for E. for quite a while, and may buy the 6-12 pattern when she's big enough for that if she still likes the dress by then.

Photo credit: Made by Rae
I have pieces mostly cut out for the Geraniums. One is an animal alphabet print, and the other is a spaceship with astronauts print.

The other dress on my list is the Little Girl's Crossover Pinafore from Smashed Peas and Carrots. This is a free pattern and tutorial. The pattern is apparently in the 6-12 month range, so it may fit my tiny 7-month-old right now, or it'll be a decent summer dress in a couple months and a jumper top in the fall.

Photo credit: Smashed Peas and Carrots
As you can see, it's a really cute little pinafore and it'll be great this summer. I haven't actually figured out the fabric for that one yet. It's a bit of a tentative one, as the suspenders and Geraniums are top of the list to get done this week.

I may get around to trying out the serger a friend lent me during this week, though I don't really need it for any of these patterns. We'll see how the timing works out. In the meantime, here's hoping Munchkin tolerates me measuring her for suspenders tomorrow as well as she handled trying on a bonnet today.

03 April 2014

the coming of spring

It starts with the sun breaking through ubiquitous rainclouds. Then a few catalysts kick the rest into gear. Someone tries to sell me herbs to boost my breastmilk while I'm the middle of slowly weaning my child. A near-stranger berates us for occasionally holding our daughter upside-down or tossing her up in the air (some of her favourite things, always done with due care, and not until she had proper head control). I don't get enough sleep because I'm trying to convince E. to go to sleep on her own, and my brain is won't shut up enough at night to let me rest. The PMS makes me irritable, the twinges in my gallbladder just hurt, and the measles outbreak two towns over is worrying.

I go home after that conversation with that stranger and cry off and on for the rest of the afternoon. I can't stop thinking about it, about how I snatched my baby out of my husband's arms and ran to get her away from that conversation, and how he followed and can't remember if he said anything to end the conversation before following me. I sob and sob, terrified that this woman will corner me again and again refuse to listen to us when we try to respond with reason. I know perfectly well that people who know us have no problems with how we handle our child. I know that she is healthy and happy and loved. But the whispers are there in the back of my mind, that maybe I'm a bad mother in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

The next day, everything weighs on me. The light, the time, my own thoughts. I make it through the day, and go to knitting group because the impulse I have is to isolate myself, and I know from experience that isolation will make it all worse.

The day after, I cry while reading "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" to E. J. stays home from music practice that night because I really don't want to be alone.

Today I go to a playgroup, and then for a walk, followed by lunch, laundry, and dishes, interspersed with trying to convince E. to have her afternoon nap. The darkness doesn't crash in until the evening when J. gets home, as if it was waiting until I wasn't on my own, so that it's mitigated just that little bit.

We're past the deadline of six months post-partum, so I know that this is probably not post-partum depression. This is me.

As always, I am functional. I have to be. Before, I had school and work, obligations that required fulfillment. Now, I have a small child depending on me. She needs me to be there for her. So I push through the quagmire, and decide that if I haven't bounced back by next Sunday, I'm giving my counselor a call. I'm hoping she won't send me to the doctor. The medication that helped last time is not compatible with breastfeeding, and while we don't breastfeed that much anymore, I don't want to quit entirely, not yet.

Some of this is probably the PMS. Some is weariness. Some is the change in the season. Most have heard of SAD, but only know what happens when people need more sunshine. I lean the other way, a less common problem in this hemisphere. The sunlight flips my moods inside out. I'm more-or-less okay during the winter, and then the weather changes, the clouds clear, and I'm hiding indoors, sketching jagged lines into paper, and avoiding people.

*             *           *

A couple weeks later, things have evened out again. I'm back to equilibrium. More sleep. Adjusting to the sun. Deliberately spending time with others. The apartment is still untidy, and I still hit occasional moments of grief. However, I feel far more normal than I did back in the days when the darkness refused to recede. For the moment, I have a reprieve.

Spring is here.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.