Seasons – Spring 2012

Spring has sprung, and brought a plethora of beginnings into our lives.  Yikes!  Things are going to start happening to me…now!

A new city…

…A new school…

…A new home…

…A new time for the fam…

…A new way to celebrate Mother’s Day — with a tickle and a wiggle…

…and a new man at two!

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Hobbyhorse for Patrick

So this present is already a hit, although not always in the way I had anticipated.  It’s a hobbyhorse, made from a plain sock pattern in Lamb’s Pride wool yarn and then felted in the washer.  It turned out PERFECTLY, and I had wondrous Mom-visions of Patrick neighing around the apartment, pretending to be a cowboy while I sipped lemonade and laughed jauntily at how imaginative my little man was.   Or something like that.

But he plays with it traditionally only half the time.  This half is extremely rewarding, and totally worth all the “hair plugs” that make up the mane of the horse.  (For the mane, I had to cut an insane amount of 6 inch pieces of yarn, and then thread each one into the felted material with my yarn needle — the powers that pattern wanted me to use a crochet hook, but that proved nigh on impossible.  So I improvised, but it was still putzy and the most time-consuming part of the whole thing.)  The rest of the time, he puts the reins around his neck, and drags the horse around behind him, saying, “Horse coming!”  I’m not sure what kinds of crazy Westerns he’s been watching, but whatevs.  The main point is that he likes it.

I sadly don’t have a picture of him riding it yet — every time he takes it out, we’re not camera-ready, and he’s put it away before we can capture the moment.  But my intrepid mother-in-law caught an adorable shot of him on his pony, so perhaps when I get my paws on that, I’ll update the post to include it.

On a partial side note, since this was a present for his second birthday, I can’t believe he’s 2.  Nuts!  He’s so old!  Totally old enough for a pony.  Now he just needs a cowboy hat, and he’ll be out on the range in no time.

 

Seasons: Winter 2011-2012

Whoops!  Although I do have all of my decorations taken down, I’m a little behind on my seasonal updates!

This winter brought…

…the excitement that comes with Santa…

…giving and receiving…

…the jolly “Ho-Ho-Hipster” Dad…

…merry merry, spirits, and goodwill…

…a foggy but fulfilling New Year’s Eve…

…the return of the “Baby Bandie” at pep band…

…knitting successes…

…and knitting failures…

…and what winter would be complete without sliding!  (Vegas style)

Spring soon to come, along with all the changes it brought!

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Aah, the comfort-food book.  I never read this one as a kid, but it is such a down-pillow of a book.  I didn’t feel any need to rush through it, because it seemed pretty clear what was eventually going to happen to poor little Sara Crewe.  I could take my time, one chapter, then a night off, straight to sleep, then maybe just half a chapter, and so on.  But while I was reading this book, it just gave me that comforting feeling — the kind you can only get from a story that is predictable, sweet, and still interesting or home cooked mac and cheese.

I loved The Secret Garden when I was younger, and this book is much the same — childhood in India, loving parent, suddenly orphaned, a girl in search of mystery and family connections — it’s sweet.  Sweet is the best word.

This was another of my read-it-or-lose-it books as we prepare for our move.  After finishing it, I think we’ll keep it around.  It will be a great read with Patrick when he’s older — perfect bedtime reading.

I had a moment in the book, when Sara befriends a rat who lives in her room, when I thought something horrible was going to happen to either the rat or her sparrow friend — but there was no need to fear.  It’s not that kind of book, and I’d just been watching too much Luther.

 

Latitude and Longitude Sweater for Beth

Southwest-y sweaters are actually hard to come by.  You’d think they’d be a dime a dozen, but you’d be wrong.  Northeast wrong.  When I was searching for a sweater pattern to make for my mother-in-law’s birthday, I really wanted something that had a little bit of a southwest flare to it — just a little Zia action.  Maybe, at bare minimum, a touch of turquoise.  But all the patterns I could find were very opposite — Northeast, indeed.  Tons of gorgeous, fair isle patterns.  Millions of ganseys!  Oodles of intricate cables!

But fortune was on my side, and helped me find this fun pattern from an archived Knitter’s magazine.  The sample picture was made in colors similar to this, except they flipped the gold and the brown.  But I really liked the POP of the vertical stripes against the horizontal — and it was absolutely just a TOUCH southwest-y.  Their vertical stripes were a deep turquoise too, so I did something I rarely do — I set out to find the same colors.  Really!  I never do that!  But it was so perfect for what I wanted for her, that I scaled back my usual mismatching craziness and went for it.

Aunt Jane helped me pick out the yarn at The Yarn Lady in Laguna Hills, CA, a great little shop with a fantastic selection.  The yarn is by Berroco, and is called Lustra — great name for it, since it does shimmer just a tiny bit.  It’s a 50% Peruvian wool/50% Tencel blend that is strong when knitted, but caused some frustration because it would tear when I was working with it.  Eventually, I learned not to pull too much on it, and to roll my balls with the bitter end on the outside instead of coming from the inside — that actually helped a lot.  Took the pressure off it, I guess.  The pattern was fun — easy to memorize — but, as always, I got a little putzed out on the sleeves.  They are my frenemies, sleeves are.

So here it is!  A few pictures of the final product, and then of course, the lovely Beth herself modeling the sweater!  I am so glad that she likes it, and hope it will go well with some cozy nights in New Mexico!

Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett

Ah, dreams.  The kind of things that keep you up nights, wondering about the future, fantasizing about the excellent romanticism that awaits you, and of course, panicking about what possible eventualities you may not have planned for.  With the boat now purchased and ready to move on to soon, it seemed a good time to finally read this book — Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett.  My mom gave it to me years ago, and Drew read it right then.  I’ve been kind of waiting for the right moment, and this was definitely it

A couple bought a castle for like a nickel and a wish in Wales.  The castle, Gwydir Castle, was falling apart, roofs caving in, gardens in disarray, bats inhabiting — but they set about fixing it up to restore it to its former glory.  The book takes us through their first year or so of work on the castle as they live in it while trying to repair it.  It’s a very sweet retelling of their story, filled with lots of luck and love — kind of a romantic and Romantic tale.  They run a little bed and breakfast out of it now, along with hosting weddings, which you can check out on their website here.

I’d classify this as a great summer read, or a wonderful “beach read.”  SO, since this book was passed along to me with the intention that I would pass it on when I was done reading it, I’ll put it up for grabs right now.  First to put forth their nickel and a wish gets it!

Flamingo Scarf for me

Working through the stash…now I can be honest about this.  I’m furiously trying to work through the yarn I have WITHOUT buying anything new in order to skim the fat from the top of my stash so that it will fit in storage when we move onto the boat come July.  Got to, got to, got to slim it down.  Actually, right now, I’ve got it pretty slimmed down already — but there are several small project amounts that I want to use up before we move.

So here was another one!  The Flamingo Scarf, from Morehouse Merino again (my favorites) and another past Christmas present from Patrick and/or Drew.  If you’ve ever been in my classroom, or had to share a dorm room with me in college, say, then you know that I really do like these awkward birds.  It started because of Fantasia 2000 — the yo-yoing flamingo:

One of the friends I went to see the movie with thought this lovely little purple flamingo was just like me — it became a karaoke nickname, Madame Flamingo, and then turned into a little side-obsession after that.  Now I have stuffed flamingos, flamingo artwork, flamingo ornaments, and even flamingo bookends in my classroom — all very tastefully done, I assure you.  But what was I missing?  A flamingo scarf, obviously!

But not any more!  It was lots of fun to create — you start at the beak, then work down the neck to the body and then the legs are made separately and sewn on.  It was fast, and cute, and is a perfect funky addition to my wardrobe.  Ta-da!  Take that, all you line-dancing, conformist flamingos!  Ha!

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

As we’re trying to think ahead to the future of a small space, I’m combing through all of our books (of which there are many) and reading as many of them as I can rather than branching out too much right now.  It’s possible that many of my little literary friends, which have for so long sat and watched from a shelf will be stored in a box for four years, and so I’m going to give as many of them as I can one last good read (or, in some cases, a first good read) before packing them away for the forseeable future.  Gosh — Debbie Downer all of a sudden.

I feel like I read The Hobbit at some point in my young life.  I feel like it, but now having read it either again or for the first time, I’m not sure I ever did.  Perhaps my maternal unit will read this post and can let me know if we ever actually read it together — we read books together at bedtime until I was in late middle school.  It was the best way to end the day — me and Mom, squashed together on my little twin bed, taking turns reading chapters of Lizard Music or maybe Buffalo Brenda.  Patrick and Drew and I end each day the same way now, and it’s so fun — books and bedtime just go together.

I knew the story — well, at least the basics.  I VIVIDLY remember the amazing adaptation at the Children’s Theater in MN when I was younger.  Smaug took up half the stage, but it was so dark, he was only a shimmering outline of jewels.  And I remembered the dwarves and all their wonderful rhyming names.  But as I read it, there were so many parts to the story that I feel certain I would have remembered if I had read it before.  Beorn?  How could I have forgotten a character like Beorn?

I do love Tolkien’s way of understated drama, making it seem only as treacherous as you, the reader, are willing to make it in your own imagination.  He has a gift for touching scenes of brevity as well.  When Bilbo and Thorin speak for the last time, it did tear me up a bit — he’s got a knack for really making you feel the sorrow in a moment with very few words.  I read back over the section a few times, but couldn’t really pinpoint exactly what he said that made me so emotional — it was just there somehow, in the words.

Whether a read or a reread, I really enjoyed it.  At this stressful time, when so many things are changing for us (albeit for the positive!), it was soothing to read just a chapter a night — just like with Mom — and think about Bilbo and his adventure that was only an adventure after it was finished.  So much more calming to think about someone else’s difficulties and tribulations than to consider your own right before sleep. And I do love the hobbits.  Their world view is one to strive for.

And who can possibly wait until December for the movie?!?  Martin Freeman?  Yes!  Ian McKellan, back again?  Double yes!

And of course!  I did remember the trolls!

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

After reading The Run Diary earlier this fall, I knew I needed to revisit this one.  I’ve lived in Vegas for almost 7 years now…wait, fact check.  For real?  It’s been 7 years already?  Yep — 7 years.  And now that I’ve lived here, I feel like I know the kinds of things about this city that only “locals” can know.  So it was time to recheck out Thompson’s book — you know, the one from that movie with Johnny Depp.  He’s the old guy who plays Jack Sparrow.

Anyway.

It’s spot on.  I mean, all the drug culture stuff and the crazed stupors are still hysterical and gritty, but what I wanted to see this time is how well does Thompson paint this town?  Does he nail it?  Answer?  Yes.  What’s difficult is that the Vegas Thompson describes is still the Vegas of today — even though Vegas would rather die than admit it.  But it’s true.  The kind of depraved negligence he shows is the way this city runs.  The confusion between whether it’s a city or just a tourist dump is the lifeblood of conversation here.  The city just built a beautiful Arts Center — really, very gorgeous — for shows and for the symphony to play in.  But all the town can talk about is whether it will attract any tourists.  It’s like the entire point of an Arts Center is missed — who cares about the tourists?  That building is for YOU, locals.  Or — Drew’s favorite example — NPR ran a spot for weeks about the possible smoking ban that went something like this: “New York, LA, Paris…what do all these cities have that Las Vegas doesn’t?  A smoking ban.”  Well, I guess that’s true.  Of course they also have a ton of OTHER, more IMPORTANT things that draw the line between actual “city” and…here.

Fair warning.  I know I’m hating.  But this town can’t keep ignoring this stuff.  How much cultural or educational growth can a place have when the best a school can hope for in a partnership is with a casino that has a restaurant called “The Pink Taco?”

But the moments of clarity in between drugged fantasies are worth anyone’s time.  And it is still true that Circus Circus is exactly what the entire hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.  Again, spot on.

I hope to read this book in another 10 years or so and say, “Wow, Las Vegas is a lot different than it used to be!”  But if it’s already been 40 years….well, I’m not going to slow down through bat country.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

This book took forever.  Not because of the book — oh no.  I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma around Christmas.  Then I paused to finish Walking to Canterbury.  Then I got sick, and didn’t want to read at night for awhile…which is really my only opportunity to read right now.  Then I was just plain tired for too many nights in a row, so I didn’t read it then.  Then he started talking about foraging for mushrooms, which I don’t really like to eat, so my interest waned.

BUT!

This book was great.  It doesn’t matter how long it took me to consume it — it was by turns fascinating and revealing.  The idea of the book is that Michael Pollan is going to try to create four different meals — one from all industrially sourced foods, one from industrial organic foods, one from “true” organic foods, and one where he has hunted or grown or found all the foods himself.  The meals are all unforgettable, and I won’t blow it for you by telling you how all of them turn out.  His meals are just a lovely little piece of creative nonfiction.

The real interest in this book comes in the reveals he makes.  About 7 years ago, Drew and I were watching Real Time with Bill Maher, and we laughed at what a fool Bill Maher was.  He was going on and on about how bad corn was for everyone, and how it was killing us, and how terrible it was for our country.  The panel just laughed, and so did we.  Well, Bill Maher, I formally apologize for making you into a Cassandra.  Turns out, he’s maybe right.  Check it out:

A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn-fed beef.  (Modern-day hunter-gatherers who subsist on wild meat don’t have our rates of heart disease.)  In the same way ruminants (cows) are ill adapted to eating corn, humans in turn may be poorly adapted to eating ruminants that eat corn.

———

Pollan talks to a farmer in Iowa about corn subsidies: So the plague of cheap corn goes on, impoverishing farmers (both here and in the countries to which we export it), degrading the land, polluting the water, and bleeding the federal treasury, which now spends up to $5 billion  a year subsidizing cheap corn.  But though those subsidy checks go to the farmer (and represent nearly half of net farm income today), what the Treasury is really subsidizing are the buyers of all that cheap corn.  “Agriculture’s always going to be organized by the government; the question is, organized for whose benefit?  Now it’s for Cargill and Coca-Cola.  It’s certainly not for the farmer.”

———-

He has a biologist friend of his put his meal from McDonald’s into a mass spectrometer:In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal: soda (100 percent corn), milkshake (78 percent), salad dressing (65 percent), chicken nuggets (56 percent), cheeseburger (52 percent), and French fries (23 percent).  What in the eyes of the omnivore looks like a meal of impressive variety turns out, when viewed through the eyes of the mass spectrometer, to be the meal of a far more specialized kind of eater.  But then, this is what the industrial eater has become: corn’s koala (Earlier in the book, he describes what it means to be an omnivore — it means we have choices when we eat, and that can lead to many “dilemmas” about what we are actually going to consume.  The koala, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem — it only eats one thing.  Like us, now!)

———-

Because of diabetes and all the other health problems that accompany obesity, today’s children may turn out to be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will actually be shorter than that of their parents.  (This is shocking…and the biggest reason why having a child makes me want to change my diet even more.  No way is Patrick’s life going to be shorter than mine — not if I can do something about it.  Pollan goes on to list all of the reasons for “humanity’s expanding waistline” but intelligently cuts it down to the real source:  “When food is abundant and cheap, people will eat more of it and get fat.”  Which is really all you need to know.)

Pollan goes from industrial farming, where he buys a steer and then works VERY HARD to try and track it down through the system (which proves extremely difficult), to a place called Polyface Farms, which is organic and run by a farmer named Joel Salatin who believes very strongly in his way of life and products.  He introduces Pollan to all kinds of agricultural insights, like this one about soil — “When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine.” And finally, in the face of a farm that “feeds itself,” Pollan (and at this point, me the reader also) asks, “All of which begs a rather large question: Why did we ever turn away from this free lunch in favor of biologically ruinous meal based on corn?  Why in the world did Americans ever take ruminants off the grass?  And how could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil fuel actually costs less than a burger produced from grass and sunlight?”

As you might imagine, he does answer a lot of these questions.  But the philosophical idea there is a hard one to answer — why do we eat this way?  When we know it’s bad for us, and we know it’s killing us and our children and hurting the environment too — why?  And that, there is no answer for.

The book contains SO MUCH more than I can talk about in one blog post — he talks about vegetarianism, he kills a wild pig for his last meal, he talks about how deceptive Whole Foods is (which we all knew anyway, right?).  All in all, a fascinating read, even if a slow one.  And honestly, shouldn’t a book like this, which ends up giving you faith in the slow food movement be a slow read also?  In a way, it was good to have a long time to really think about the ideas he brought up and the experiences he had trying to trace his meals down the food chain.  I am really struck by how far removed we are from the food we eat — most of us don’t grow it, or hunt it, or even meet the people who grew it or hunted it or found it or created it in a lab.  It’s like magic — it just appears on the shelves or in the cases of your local supermarket.  I’m also struck by how cheap food really is, and how little we spend on it.

But the last little quote I’ll leave you with is just kind of fun — and applies to this blog directly.  Pollan is about to go foraging for mushrooms for the first time, and will soon go hunting for the first time, too: “Isn’t is curious how in so many of our pastimes and hobbies we play at supplying one or another of our fundamental creaturely needs — for food, shelter, even clothing?  So some people knit, others build things or chop wood, and a great many of us “work” at feeding ourselves — by gardening or hunting, fishing or foraging.” Guilty!  I play at self-reliance!  But hopefully, our little family can continue to play at self-reliance in other food ways as well, and then we can stay healthy and only eat corn when it’s on the cob.  With lime.

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