Monday, April 25, 2011

A book and its cover

I took my time reading One Man's Meat... E. B. White's essays are engrossing. In fact, if I had to describe this experience, I might call it "chewy." That is, when you really have to chew your food, think it over, and get back to it later. Sometimes I had to ponder the historical context of his words, think on his perspectives in context, and appreciate his reflections on war and history in an age when media was NOT omnipresent the way it is today.

Some of the essays were incredibly straightforward and relevant today. Written 70 years ago, the points they make about our automobile society, the changes in regional language from one state to another (New York to Maine, in White's case) or even his insanely stressful "to do" list, called "Memorandum" are all still relevant. His clear competence as a professional--both as a writer and his adaptation to life on a farm were all well-worth reflecting on because he combined two things I often think are well-suited to one another. (The professor keeps steering us towards buying houses "in town" because he thinks I'd acquire an awful lot of sheep, llamas, goats, etc. in a hurry if I had a house in the country. My imagined garden and orchard would also be enormous. It's enough to scare a person into buying houses near lots of bus routes, I suspect.)

White's essay, "Memorandum" reminded me of my most scattered, stressed-out "to do" list and how much there is always left to get done at the end. I read that one before bed and you can bet I didn't sleep much afterwards!

I also felt stimulated by this book in a way that I haven't been lately. I admit that I've lately been guilty of reading lightweight British mysteries and other novels that pass the time without too much thought required. In part, I figured I was giving myself a brain break while my body works overtime. In part, I was just being lazy during a time when I do have plenty of time to read..and think. Reading these essays required me to do research as I went along, reading more about E.B. White, his life, his family members and his times.

I was reminded, this past summer, by the heavyweight books that our resident student took on as her leisure time reading. I too read depressing/intellectual/inspiring/well-written/classics (etc) for fun when I was 20, and she did too. Recently when I spoke to her on the phone, I heard from her that her favorite book of the summer was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

Really? I asked her. Did you buy that here or bring it with you from home? Or did you borrow it from our shelves?

Oh, she said, I borrowed it....

and I laughed, because the copy she'd read was perfect for a knitter. I'd read it so many times (at about her age) that the spine was perfectly cracked, the book lay flat, and any knitter could read it slowly, while knitting, over and over again. It was also one of my favorites at that time of life. These days, I don't push myself as often to read books about big ideas, and I should.

Reflecting on these essays made me ponder a few things.
1) Some writers are lifelong companions. Charlotte's Web was one of my favorite books as a kid. My mother studied that book in her children's literature class in college. My father cried as he read it to me, and I've read it over and over. I'm still distraught that I seem to have misplaced my mother's copy of The Elements of Style. In any case, I bought another, as it is a reference book I can't teach writing without...and well, you get my point.

2) While I write lots of different things, I think at heart I am most fond of the essay. The problem with this is that being an essayist is no longer so profitable. I think the closest I come to getting to write essays all the time is on the blog--and I don't earn anything here. I've thought over that one long and hard and have yet to find good solutions to that. I'm hoping that some day I'll make the big time with an essay I sell, but so far, at $100 or less for most of the ones I sell, I'll have to stick to other kinds of writing to make my way in the world.

3) I am still very fond of books. That is, actual books rather than electronic ones. I don't have an e-reader of any kind and have debated long and hard over whether I need one. The gadgetry of it is tempting but they are quite pricey for someone who reads as much as I do. Usually, I conclude it's safer NOT to have one when I spill tea at breakfast while reading, or when I notice one of the dogs sidling up and licking a book on the coffee table. Neither would be ideal for an e-reader, I'd imagine.

However, it would also keep me from learning about the history of the actual book in my hands. (Check out the photos to see these details) My copy of One Man's Meat was purchased in 1963 for the Owensboro, Kentucky High School Library. I found this book to be fairly sophisticated, so while I am sure that somebody enjoyed it while it spent 35 years there, I was surprised to see it spent so long in a high school library! I might have read it in high school but I'm not sure what I would have gotten out of it at that time...

It was discarded in November of 1998 (a few months after the professor and I got married). It next turned up at a Bowling Green, Kentucky public library book sale sometime between 2003 and 2009, since I must have bought it sometime in there. I suspect I bought it sometime in the range of 2007-2009 but hadn't yet gotten to reading it. I moved it to Canada with me...and finally enjoyed its well-cracked spine and soft paper over the past few months.

That's just a few thoughts on this wonderful essay collection. I'm sure I'll think back on it over and over again over the coming months or years. I may have to read it again. If I teach a writing class where it's relevant, I might have to use one of these essays--each one is a gem from which I (and my students) could learn a great deal.

If you're a reader and you like essays, do check it out. It's well worth it!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

left leaning

This post is not about politics.

I know you'd assume it would be, since we are about to have an election in Canada (in which I cannot vote, because I am not a Canadian citizen) and because there has been a lot of political news in the USA lately. Neither of these is particularly relevant to this blog post.*

I will, of course, refer to religion, health, and wealth in this post, so you can feel I've violated the "taboo in polite company" subjects. This makes up for the lack of photos! (Photos would be way too much information'll see!)

On Passover, at the Passover seder, some people have the custom of leaning to the left as they drink the four cups of wine. Don't worry, I had grape juice this year. If you're curious as to why, I've included information from this website below to explain.**

Anyhow, at the seders I attended this year, nobody did this, but I was reminded of the custom.

Why? Well, when you're pregnant, you're supposed to be sleeping on your left side. This is because you can't physically sleep on your stomach...that would be seriously uncomfortable for everybody involved. If you sleep on your right side, you can apparently cut off circulation because as the uterus gets larger, it can cut off blood flow. Apparently sleeping on your back isn't ideal either. You should only, if possible, lean to your left as you sleep. (I am usually a stomach or side sleeper, but well, everything changes when pregnant with twins, apparently.)

I'd like to point out here that before the days of medicalized advice, many pregnant women managed to sleep through the night without any instructions at all. Apparently, humanity survived this lack of sleeping instructions....but now women must rely on medical intervention to enjoy poor sleep and miserable nights during pregnancy.

Now, I can't speak for anybody else, but for the last few months, the only way I managed to sleep at all was in a sort of boosted up reclining position, on my back. This cut down on my heartburn, shortness of breath, and numbness in my arms and hands while I slept...until recently, when my legs and feet started to get seriously swollen, too. I have had low or normal blood pressure all along, and my doctor assures me all my symptoms are entirely normal for a twin pregnancy.

Last night in the dark, while pondering the notion of leaning left on Passover (and going to the bathroom about 500 times), I tried rebuilding my pillow fort in bed and trying sleeping on my left side again. The ligaments in my abdomen didn't like this added pressure. The fetus in the lower part of my abdomen didn't like it. However, when morning finally arrived, I discovered that the swelling in my legs and feet had subsided. It worked.

Leaning left was a good (if totally uncomfortable) idea. It only takes about 5 pillows, a duvet, a wool blanket, a bed entirely to oneself and a very long night of discomfort. It does, however, really reduce swelling in my legs.

When the professor got up this AM, he saw my frustration and asked if he could make me more comfortable. First, I offered a string of suggestions, none of which can be described in polite company here...I was grouchier than Oscar the Grouch. Second, I sprung out of bed at 6:30 in the morning, giving up entirely on sleep.

Stay tuned--the pillow fort research approach to circulation, swelling and numbness is likely to continue over here.

Now, don't you wish this WERE about politics?!

*Except for this quirky story: When I was a kid, I had a book about Native American/Indian/First Nations/Aboriginal culture. (Choose the category that people use in your area--this terminology varies in the US and Canada.) I loved this book and my parents read it to me over and over. In particular, I was enthralled with the notion of the Potlatch. I especially loved the idea of giving away presents to other people at a big party--and the effort to equalize status through redistribution. I still love throwing dinner parties today and giving people presents when I have just the right thing for someone. When we decided to move to Winnipeg, my father concluded--as a joke-- that I'd fit right in as I was always leaning "left" towards socialism anyway. Further, he figured I just wanted to move farther west --"left" when looking at a map--in order to really participate in all those potlatches. :)

**The Talmudic Sages created a rabbinic injunction that a Jewish person was obligated to drink 4 Cups of Wine during the Seder in a way (leaning or reclining to the left) that expresses their freedom (Babylonian Talmud, Gemara, Pesachim 108b, 117b). The drinking of Four Cups of Wine represents the most prominent rabbinical injunction or obligation or mitzvah to be performed during the Seder. Furthermore, each of the 4 Cups of Wine symbolizes a commandment or mitzvah I.E. an obligation to perform, unto itself (Babylonian Talmud, Gemara, Pesachim 109b-110a).

Why Must One Recline or Lean to the Left When Drinking The Four Cups of Wine? Why Not Recline or Lean to the Right or Not At All?

The Talmudic rabbis cautioned against reclining or leaning to the right when drinking the Four Cups of Wine or when drinking any other beverage or when eating because there was and is a greater danger of accidentally consuming the liquid or food down the windpipe or trachea when one is reclining or leaning toward the right. In addition, the custom of the Greeks and then Romans during the time of the Talmudic rabbis (the latter about 10 B.C.E. until 500 C.E.) was to drink and eat while reclining or leaning to the left, which symbolically indicated that the rulers of Judea - the Romans, who were preceded by the Greeks - were the only free people in Judea and so they were the only ones who were able to do that.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

spring in Manitoba

On the weekends, I try to let the professor sleep in a little bit. I often get up earlier than he does to let out the dogs. This is what greeted me last weekend at 7 or so in the morning--a nice sloppy spring snowscape. All of the accumulated winter snow had melted off previously, so this was just a fluke spring storm.

We could enjoy it because, well, we have a new roof and knew it would melt quickly! Yes, I still like snow. I like snow even AFTER living in Buffalo, which gets about 250 cm (about 100 inches) average a year! You can see in the picture that includes the streets that it wasn't too cold--the snow melted right off the streets but accumulated on the grassy areas.

Last night was the start of Passover. Traditionally, I wouldn't be posting right now--it's a holiday--but I wanted to share our technological solution to the Passover Seder. The professor and I had never had a seder for just the two of's meant to be a big event for family and friends. We've always traveled to be with family or had a full table of friends and family at our house. Just the idea of a two person seder got me sort of down. It was the most practical solution, of course, as I couldn't have managed to travel or cook a meal for a lot of people, but I still felt sad.

However, my dad's idea came to the rescue--we decided to use skype for our seder. Here is our modest set up for two at the dining room table. On the far left of the picture, you can see the computer...we skyped with my family in Virginia so we could all "be together" for the holiday. It's a non-traditional thing to do--the seder is not really a time for phones or the internet--but in this case, it allowed us all to be together. It was pretty special. Other things to note about our table this year:

1) The professor drank some of his homemade wine--hence the bottle with the weird blue label.
2) I got to eat Egg Matzah because I'm pregnant. (I like it and think it tastes better but usually stick to regular matzah on Passover because egg matzah is considered to be for the "infirm." I qualify this year!)
3) We used the matzah cover my grandmother embroidered for me--she finished it when I graduated from college. She was at my parents' seder and I was pleased as punch that she is still around to share a seder with me 16 years later!
4) We finished our seder very early, so I was off to sleep early as well...note it is still light outside in Winnipeg if you can see the window beyond the table.

All in all, a great solution for a challenging confluence of holidays, health, etc. Tonight, we're going to a friend's house for an informal second seder-I'm hoping I'll be able to stay awake!

Other random notes about spring time and your comments:
-Today, the professor reports he saw his first crocuses while walking the dogs. I thought he was joking but he said no, they were actually growing outside. Spring does eventually come to Winnipeg. Really.

-I'm still enjoying E.B. White's essays and am so pleased to pass along the recommendation to Alison and to discuss an oldie but goodie with Deb!

-Are the fix-its in my house finished? (Uhh, no. We live in an old house. They will never be finished.) There is someone coming this week to finish the painting on the third floor. After that, we will likely take a break on house repairs if nothing further goes wrong. There's still plenty to fix, but the chaos can be unsettling, and now is maybe not the time for further fixes. We're running out of money and patience for now!

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Friday, April 15, 2011


We are in the midst of flood season here in Manitoba. Winnipeg is located where two rivers meet, the Red River and the Assiniboine River. Both rivers are really high at the moment. There is a wonderful system of ditches and diversions, known as the Red River Floodway or "Duff's Ditch," that keep large parts of the city from being flooded each time there is a lot of winter melt and precipitation. At this time of year, it can be bright and sunny, but the melt off of the snow can cause a flood at the same time.

The professor was driving to the university earlier this week when he took some time to rubberneck at the river near where he parks his car. (Everyone does, the rivers are mammoth this time of year...) What did he see but two hawks! He pulled over his car and whipped out his camera. Others immediately slowed down their cars, and a couple even got out their cameras. Here are a couple of photos of what the professor saw by the river...he knew they were hawks, but not what kind. He brought his photos to one of his colleagues, who told him they were mates--a pair of Cooper's Hawks. Pretty amazing sighting!

The new roof and attic insulation are all finished at this point. (We now have more than the original 1912 wood shavings in the attic.) The professor also took photos of this event--it was quite a scene while it took place. While the outside "fixes" are now complete, we're still going to have some more painting inside next week. The plaster, dust, and noise are still messy, but there is hope in sight. The dogs and I enjoy every quiet moment in between repair jobs. Who knew ice dams would cause so much damage and so much expense?!

These days I have to spend a lot of time with my feet up to reduce swelling. I'm also doing a lot of resting...Since my hands are also swollen, knitting, cooking, and other pursuits requiring dexterity have to remain limited. To fill up the time, I've been reading a book by E.B. White called One Man's Meat. It was published in the early 1940's and is still in print. Each essay is a jewel. I can see why, in a new time of war around the world, there is much to cherish about this depiction of life during another war and time. I hope to finish it soon so I can write more about it. It's well worth reading.

Hope you're well and dry, wherever you live!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

new sweater!

I finally finished my Tilted Duster sweater. These photos aren't so good--I was trying to do them myself and used one of the mirrors in my house. The mirrors are on the (original) doors and therefore are about 100 years old. This means that no matter how much you clean them, they are still a bit distorted and spotty at times.

Caption: Sally mainly watched the activity at a distance while I did my photo shoot...

The professor declared my photos "artistic" which was a nice way of saying they weren't that good...sorry about that. If you liked this pattern, you could buy a download of it here. Every so often, I try to knit someone else's design from start to finish to learn from their writing and design ideas. I find it particularly interesting if the design has an interesting construction or if I really respect the designer. (I really respect Norah Gaughan. Her designs are so innovative!) In this case, I used Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran yarn, which is now discontinued. In fact, Jo Sharp yarn is now no longer available in North America, for the most part. Very sad. Some of it was purchased in Australia when we travelled to Brisbane in 2004.

Of course, it is hard for me to restrain myself, so I went into this thinking I'd just knit a black sweater and ended up making changes anyway. The collar and sleeves are knit out of a purple color called "quartz" and I lengthened the ribbing on the sleeves and shorted the sleeves themselves as well. (I have short arms.) The sweater took way too long for me to finish, largely because knitting has been hard with my sore hands. The professor helped me choose the perfect buttons from my large button stash. (The button collection is mostly inherited from his mother and grandmother, but I do frequent building of stash to keep things interesting!)

We looked at gray mother of pearl buttons with a purple tinge, which came in at a close second. They were very dressy and gorgeous, but maybe a bit too flashy. I bought those mother of pearl buttons at an antique shop to match my -second hand-winter coat in the fall of 1991, when I was a freshman in college in Ithaca, New York. When the winter coat finally wore out, I cut the buttons back off again--they've been waiting for the next right garment ever since!

We looked at purple buttons (not a great match) and silver and black buttons (also a bit flash). In the end, we chose some plain black plastic buttons that looked as though a thrifty relative had cut them off of an outfit long ago.

Before I began sewing them on, I blocked the sweater. I usually block things by handwashing and pinning them out to dry. That seemed like a long time to wait and a lot of heavy damp material in this case, so instead, I used a steamy iron to block things. The collar flopped down immediately into a sailor suit collar, and when I put that on, I saw it suited "the big belly" far better than a high collar. I'm saving the buttons for later on, and for now, a pin will do. Temperatures are now reaching into the 50's (10-15C) here so it is a perfect outdoor sweater. I've taken to wearing this frequently now.

See, every so often I do talk about fibery things... I'm now trying to refocus my efforts on the last sleeve of this red sweater, which I first talked about last September. It's a good thing I'm also creating twins over here, because the sweater production sure has slowed down!

I want to thank everyone who left me a comment or sent me an email saying they were sending good vibes in my direction. I really appreciate it. I've felt a bit isolated lately and your notes have been very cheery. I am also expecting to have a very low key celebration this Passover ...very different than the travelling to see family or complicated holiday meals I've made at home in the past. It feels a little strange but as Nina mentions in her comment, "it's all good" --it will all work itself out. (It doesn't seem to be a good time to exert myself in the cooking and cleaning department!)

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

update on random stuff

1) I heard tell that a lot of folks ate some sundaes last week. I even heard they were good! Thanks for all the email reports! (We had sweet cream/cookie dough ice cream and hot fudge here. It was delicious.)

2) We now have a new roof and new insulation. It's hard to believe how incredibly quiet it is now that this banging is over. Even the dogs are exhausted.

3) It ain't over 'til it's over. Next week, I get to see a drywaller and a painter again--some of the roofing did a wee bit of damage on the inside of the house. Some day, all this renovation will be over and I will have a whole day without banging, noise, or disorder...(at least, while I'm still pregnant...I know toddlers offer all of the above.)

4) I'm still healthy, in week 31 of the pregnancy, and big as a house. More news on that another time, I guess.

5) I am slowly, slowly, finishing up a handknit black sweater. My swollen and sore hands don't enjoy sewing anymore either, so it is slow.

Hope you're all well out there. I see people are reading the blog, but don't hear from many of you. Wanted you to know all is fine here. Next time, I'll even try to post a photo...

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sundae Sunday!

Did you know that the ice cream sundae was invented 119 years ago today in Ithaca, New York? Learn more about it here! The professor and I are considering celebrating this important birthday together later. We met in Ithaca, while we were undergraduates at Cornell. One of our first dates was at an ice cream parlor. We're serious about ice cream around's snowing/raining/slushy out today in Winnipeg, but we wouldn't let a little ithacating get in our way. We're thinking of an ice cream sundae date later. Celebrate with us! Tell me about the delicious sundae you had today?

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Friday, April 01, 2011

shot of color

It is downright dreary outside right now...overcast and damp. Roofing has been put off until next week. The painting is almost complete--aside from the carpentry/painting that needs to happen next week. I knew all this would take a while. Some of it has gone very quickly, but some has not. Even though I'm not getting out much these days anyhow, I am beginning to miss leaving the house. (It's hard to leave home when you know someone is coming over at "mid-day"--and by the time that work is done, well, the day is mostly gone!)

I am really appreciating your messages on the blog. Sometimes I write you back via email, sometimes I visit your blogs (Adriene's post on citizenship was really something!) and sometimes, I just read your notes, smile, and read them again. I read them all. Thank you for keeping me company!

I am still doing some writing and editing for work, but am trying to wind this down. I can still type but my hands are very sore most of the time. This, like most of the pregnancy symptoms, will go away--sometime AFTER the babies are born. Between now and then, well, I have to take it one day at a time. From everything I've been told, nothing is likely to disappear in the symptoms department during this last trimester. It's all likely to get worse or stay the same.

One thing I can still do is dye things. A couple of days ago, I handwashed a wool blanket and while I was at it, went on a brief spurt of handdyeing. I started with an old short white cotton blend bathrobe. This was part of a nightgown set I got so many years ago that the rest of the set is long gone. I hardly ever wear robes and in any case, a white robe wasn't so useful in our household of muddy dog paws and spills. I decided that dyeing this might make it useful. I started with some garnet colored dye. (Before you ask where I got it and what I use...the professor used to buy me lots of this dye from here as presents. I have a life time supply of random colors!)

I like these packets of dye because they are self-contained, don't sprinkle powder everywhere, and allow me to dye in a one step, afternoon process rather than a multi-step one requiring mordants, etc.

I started with the bathrobe, but since the dye is an all-purpose one for both protein and cellulose, cotton/poly blends will not absorb all the dye bath. I decided to throw in some wool for fun. I soaked too small bunches of roving (wrapped up gently with rubber bands) in some vinegar. The weird color is because I used red wine vinegar. It was close by and didn't weigh too much for me to lift. (We buy white vinegar in enormous jugs and I now find a full one of these too heavy to lift!)

Then I threw these in the dye pot along with the robe. The white wool is a Romney roving and the natural gray color is a Romney-cross wool blended with a small amount of mohair. It turns out I could have dyed more wool, but I ran out of energy after this so ended up dumping a bit of colored dye water down the drain. That's reasonably safe with this dye, as compared to dumping something scary like copper sulfate-a mordant that fixes dye to fiber- down the drain as someone recently did in rural Manitoba. That harmed their water local water treatment plant and waterways.

In these photos, I included a ball of handspun laceweight natural gray wool/mohair so you can see how the darker color takes up a richer color of dye. I happen to like the rich cranberry color to the right better than the pinkish red...but in either case, this is enough for a spindle full of yarn, or perhaps a contrast color if I am filling up a bobbin on a spinning wheel sometime in the future. The robe came out a deep rose/red color. Ideal for hospital stays and perhaps more forgiving of stains than a white robe.

While all this dried, I had a remarkable turn-around in the mail service karma situation..I think it was all the professor's good luck. Yesterday, the professor was home from work as we dealt with two different things at once. (a painter and a locksmith/carpenter) First, my package of baggy maternity dresses arrived. Hurray!!

Everything I bought still fit (double Hurray!) although it turns out that one of the dresses I ordered, in brown, looks remarkably like a monk's brown cassock. I am wearing it today and trying to liven it up with some accessories. I am also having to put my feet up all the time because my ankles and feet are swelling these days as well as my hands. I usually try to remember to take my shoes off before putting my feet on the coffee table. Please don't think I'm a big slob! This is merely so you can see my oxblood colored shoes...good for livening up dreary weather.

Second, I finally received some black discontinued Jo Sharp yarn that I'd ordered to finish a sweater...back at the end of February. Both the seller and I had just about given it up for lost. It appeared yesterday. This photo shows the yarn (in a plastic bag) along with the black sweater, the red sweater, and some green t-shirts of the professor's -- fabric I am recycling by handsewing into something new and more useful, I hope.

This is the side table in my living room--it seems disporportionately messy. I am stuck on sleeves (second sleeve for the black sweater and first sleeve for the red sweater) and can only knit a few rows a day because of my swollen hands, but it LOOKS like I'm being really busy as a knitter! Either that, or really slovenly...!

If you live in a place where spring hasn't "sprung" yet (like me), I hope this shot of color brightened your day. If you're currently enjoying the end of daffodil season? Well, maybe you should keep that to yourself for a bit....don't rub it in!

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