Monday, December 29, 2008

Talk Amongst Yourselves

I'm still here....just busy drinking Screech and eating chocolate and playing with my new iPod. I'd show you a picture of it but I can't find the camera among all the empty eggnog cups.

I hope all your Christmasses were very merry, and that your New Years' will be happy ones...I will be back then-ish...I have a post planned for, I don't know, maybe Epiphany?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's comin' outta your hide, missy.

My favourite ornament, my beautiful bronze-coloured glass acorn, dropped by my four year old. 'Tis the season to forgive and forget, but I admit I am bearing a slight grudge in my heart of hearts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Read 'em and eat.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
(Whassamatter, don't you know what day it is?)
Volume 7, Number 2, 3, and 4

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the kitchen
I was cooking and baking and moanin' and bitchin'

Oh, wait......I think somebody already wrote that poem.

Today I'm showing you three cookbooks I love. 'Tis the season for rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands floury, lads, so you should take a look at these.

First off is The Gingerbread Architect. FANTASTIC book for us gingerbread divas...even though this year it looks like I'll be reading about it more than actually doing it. Time, unlike my to-do list, grows short.

The Gingerbread Architect is a collaboration between a pastry chef and an architect, who present twelve designs for awe-inspiring gingerbread houses. The designs are all based on American architecture, and each includes a set of blueprints and exhaustive directions. There is an Antebellum Plantation house, a Cape Cod house, a Tudor Revival house, and my personal favourite, the Urban Brownstone. (It reminds me of Lizbon.)

The authors give all kinds of interesting tips on gingerbread house construction, from tinting the mortar icing brown (HOW COME I DIDN'T THINK OF THAT) to how to light your house from the inside. Get an eyeful of these photos, and if you have a gingerbread artist in your family, think about this book for a Christmas gift.

It's my photograph, not the book's, that is askew.

Next up: The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book. The author, Elizabeth Baird, is the no-nonsense Granny (or maybe mother-in-law) of every single Canadian. She urges you to try your hand at yeast bread, braiding a festive challah, weaving a lattice-top pie crust, and complicated pastries. She breezily states that Canadians are the best home bakers in the world - and makes a pretty good case for it, too - and I can imagine her waving a dismissive hand at anyone who tries to claim that, say, the Scandinavians are also very good.

Elizabeth Baird is the fondly stern Granny of my heart, for sure. She makes me want to grab her and kiss her on the top of her head, just to show her that I'm taller than she is. She's smack me one, though - she's feisty.

Mwah! Mwah mwah!!

The one thing about this book that is quite hilarious is the advice she includes, such as, in regard to Turtle Bars, "'s hard to stop at one, but you must." Then there's this finger-shake, "a small piece of this is totally satisfying". One wonders whether Elizabeth Baird is a little too concerned that we watch our figures. On another page, though, she says "don't deprive yourself of whipped cream on this cake", so I guess she loves us after all.

I want Granny to make this Plum Sour Cream Kuchen for me.

I think that if you wanted to teach yourself how to bake, or simply needed to improve your skills with an oven, you could do no better than to get this book. I'm so glad I have it, if only because it is completely stuffed with recipes, and with this one acquisition I have probably multiplied my recipe collection by about forty times. I've been thinking it over, and I believe Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess is the only baking book I value more...I'm so sorry, Granny....please don't hit me.

Which brings me to Nigella's new Christmas book. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, they tell me, and this book is a case in point. Nobody but me has even been allowed to look through it since I got it. I haven't finished feasting my eyes on the beautiful pictures yet, never mind the wry, fondly-written text and the mouth-watering recipes.

Maple Cheesecake, people, MAPLE FREAKING CHEESECAKE.

Nigella is the Elizabeth Zimmermann of cooking. She is with you in spirit, leaning over your shoulder and pointing out things in her book, or in your food, or in your life in general, that you might have overlooked. Her style of writing is charmingly conversational and utterly appealing. She is my favourite cookbook author by far, partly because one can read her books from cover to cover as if they were fiction or, more accurately, a letter from a friend. It makes it so easy to remember what's in her books, as well as making it much more likely that I'll try a recipe when she has chatted me up about it.

Mince pies - haute cuisine, only appreciated by the truly haute. Such as myself.

As to Christmas, Nigella's philosophy is that a certain amount of fuss and bother is necessary and inevitable for us to feel that a celebration is taking place, at all. She does give heaps of advice on practical things like timetables though, to minimize the Christmas kitchen-angst.

See the caption on the mug?

Generally speaking, her approach to food is unfussy and prosaic, very taste-based - I find her recipes fairly reliable. The cakes I don't care for, being a North American - British cakes tend to be dry for my taste. Everything else, though - very keen. I can particularly recommend her glorious roast potato recipe, which involves goose fat and butter and is what the angels eat cold out of heaven's fridge.

Oh roast potatoes how I love thee.

Nigella Christmas is a lovely book. It is packed with good advice and chatty writing, and also looks great on my coffee table. It has joined Domestic Goddess, Feast, and Nigella Express on the bookshelf, and is a wonderful addition to my collection.

Now I'm hungry, so I'm going to go bake something. After all - we Canadians are good at that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I didn't have such a great day yesterday, after putting up that post. First, my friend came over in the afternoon and said gravely "I read your blog."

"The one about the rat?"

"Uh huh. Y'know that U-cut guy? [pause] That's my dad."

A few hours later Mr HSB came home from work and we had a little talk about loyalty, and perspective.

So let me lay it all out, here. There's a word for the little events that happen in my life, what strikes me funny, and what strikes me irritating - material. I may or may not choose to use it, but it's all there for me.

Authorship works like this. The event happens, I process it, and I relate it. Then you comment. The incident itself is A, the story I tell is Y, and the comments are Z. The processing is what takes it from B to X, and by the time it gets there, the event itself may or may not be recognizable. For example, U-Cut Tree Dude, while sticking to his price, was completely friendly and not mean or rude. And Mr HalfSoledBoots is not supposed to handle things like litter boxes, or rodents, or dead things. There are health issues around his transplant. But doesn't the other way make a better story? Yes. Absolutely.

A little poll.

I can understand that some people might like a warning before they appear in glorious technicolor on Half Soled Boots. So, for anyone still looking for the perfect present for Shan, may I suggest this?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Let's see what Google Adsense does with THIS.

--Caution: bad language, graphic violence, and mature themes. --

Today was tree day, only Mr Half Soled Boots was feeling a bit unwell, so I ended up taking the kids out to the U-Cut by myself. I took the dog too, for some reason, and ended up dealing with a steaming pile in the middle of the tree lot. Luckily I was carrying a J-Cloth in my pocket and they had a very handy utility ditch running along the edge of the acreage, between their property and the next. You do what you have to do and if it's not in a garbage can, at least it's not either in my coat pocket, or stuck to anyone's shoe.

After 35 minutes trudging around trying to picture all these trees, individually, in my living room, I found a lovely Grand Fir, not too bushy and not too tall. I like my trees to be natural-looking, rather than overly cultured. We marked it with the ribbon provided, and I went back up to the house to get the saw.

At the house I saw a sign that the Douglas Firs were $25, but the Grand Firs were $30. I had exactly $26 in my pocket, but I'm friendly and nice and I'm lugging two cute little girls and an adorable dog, so I liked my chances. I said to Tree Dude, "I found a Grand Fir that'll be perfect, but I didn't realise they were more and I have $26 in my pocket." He ruminated, admired Piper, and then said to me "You can just go get more money and come back for the tree later."

I agreed cordially, put the kids in the car, and drove 500 meters to the garden centre where they had already done the cutting for me and also they take Interac. Scroogy U-Cut Tree Dude can stick his Grand Fir, far as it'll go. Talk about putting the X back in Christmas - he made me wish I hadn't bothered with that utility ditch at all.

So I bought a Doug Fir, lifted it onto the car, tied it down, and drove home. Then I untied it, carried it into the house, checked the height and realised it needed to be about 10 inches shorter. At this point Mr HSB was leaning against the living room wall, drinking coffee and watching me. He remarked, "You'll need to cut that off. You should use the reciprocating saw, it's out in the shed. I think it still has the long blade on it from the summer."

"Yes. Um....can you do it?"

He looked at me curiously. "Why? I'm cold. And you still have your boots and coat on."


Then he says, "While you're out there, check the trap."

I went out there. It was about -10. I opened the shed and eyed the corner where the trap usually is, and saw this.

I marched back to the house, stood in the doorway and, knowing full well what was coming, announced to Mr HSB, "We got a rat. Want me to deal with it?"

He seemed surprised that I'd ask, and said by way of confirmation, "And try to salvage the trap - it's our last one."

I reached past him and got the camera. He said as I was walking out, "Gonna take a picture of the rat or what?"

"I'm taking pictures," I said, "because the blog is not going to believe what you are making me do." [caution: link is to a yucky dead-rat picture]

I did, after all, manage to salvage the trap. Little Remy didn't bleed at all, so hopefully his cronies will approach the trap without smelling.....well, smelling a rat is what I was going to say.

I reset the thing, trying to be careful, but of course at one point I wiggled the little yellow thing and WHAM. All three fingertips of my right hand. I yelled "OW FUCK" and the only person in the neighbourhood who didn't hear me, apparently, was Mr HSB. He was still calmly sipping coffee in the rocking chair when I slammed back into the house and strode to the bathroom, shouting "WHEN MY FINGERS THAW THAT IS GOING TO HURT SO BAD." He had the decency to follow me in there and look concerned as I disinfected my rapidly swelling hand, as if that makes up for everything else. I was so angry I took a self-portrait so you can see my mad eyebrows. I think I wore this expression for over an hour, judging by the lactic acid buildup in my forehead and cheeks.

And it all just makes me wonder, how much is a sex change operation anyway? Because I might as well get on with it, the hard part's done - all that's left is acquiring the ACTUAL parts and I will officially become what I apparently already am: a man.

Though if I'm a man, I am maybe one of these men, because I can deck a mean hall.

And what does it mean that I am now identifying myself as a gay man trapped in a woman's body? Maybe I should save myself the cost of the surgery and all those pesky drugs and just leave things as they are, if the alternative is going through all that hassle just to be essentially the same as I am now, in charge of all the unpleasant tasks, and sleeping with guys.


Hi Mum!

Now I'm having a bit of down time after the rather annoying day. Tomorrow there's this sort of party I've been invited to, for mums and kids, at 9.30 in the morning, so hopefully I'm not too hung over with all the rum and eggnog I'm imbibing at this moment while admiring my glorious Douglas Fir and cradling my former hand in my lap.

At least I can still type.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Post something. ANYTHING.

The Advent calendar is done. I haven't put the numbers on yet though - too busy. I just pinned them to a crocheted chain and hung them up. After Christmas, when I'm taking everything down, I'll decide on a nice arrangement, pin them in order, then do the numbers.

It's snowing outside - first of the year. Just last night I finally remembered to stop at the kids' consignment place and buy the snowsuit I had picked out for Charlotte. I never did manage to get a sled though, which is too bad because once the snow falls people remember they need them, and sleds become impossible to find.

The kids have just spotted the snow falling, so they are clamouring to bake something. I have to go clear up the kitchen and make room for gingerbread rolling.

Monday, December 08, 2008

No harm in trying.

To all you people who are obligated to buy me a Christmas present:

I would really like to have a DVD of the Muppet Christmas Carol.

Thank you.
PS: Good luck in Vancouver, Renee. I'll be thinking of you.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I'm issuing a formal apology for the ads now appearing on this site, which are touting "No More Pub!c Hair EVER". It all comes of talking about waxing strips - I won't do it again.

Unless, y'know, it looks like something you might be interested in, in which case click away.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Good evening, Renée. Are you in any pain?

I started Christmas cleaning today, and the whole tragic farce reminded me of the rigorous grooming we girls undertake before the first swim every summer: there's a lot of catching up to do. I go through vacuum bags in December at approximately the same rate as I go through waxing strips in July.

I made a chai latte yesterday, and Em wanted some, so we went to the buffet to choose a demitasse cup for her. AND FOUND THIS.

Care for a close-up?

No sign of any other disturbance, and no one has opened this cabinet in like a month. It's a complete mystery to me, though I suspect that my friend, who deeply covets this cabinet, has put a hex on it so it spontaneously smashes my china at random intervals. She's trying to get me to give it to her and tells me that the hutch will not be happy until it finds its rightful home. I'm thinking of knitting one of these with curly black hair - see how she likes it when I run a few red-hot needles into her little woolly gullet.

Piper is nine months old now. Mr HSBoots happened to read the contract we signed when we bought him, and apparently we promised to neuter him by 7 months of age. But with Christmas coming up and the trip we just took but haven't yet paid for, I'm eyeing up that rubber mallet and Xacto knife. Or I suppose I could just tie 'em off with one of these ouchless elastics that keep clogging up my beater bar.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Late as usual

We're back from the States, and what a surreal experience American Thanksgiving is. I felt all disoriented, with Christmas decorations and turkey and whatnot, and it not even December. Never mind Black Friday, which we observed sum, lots of people, long lineups, mediocre deals. Maybe I went to the wrong stores but I don't think 50% off is worth getting out of bed at whatever ungodly hour some of these people turned up. I was hoping for bins full of $15 iPods but they were nowhere to be found. I was also wondering whether I'd see someone get trampled to death, which is not unheard of on Black Friday, but on the whole the crowd seemed orderly enough. And people in Puyallup are very friendly - they chat to you in line-ups.

It was so great to see my family though, and to hang out with everybody for a few days. Much fun was had by all, and so was much beer and rich food. Plus, I got to meet another blogger, my brother's friend KingJaymz. He and his wife came from Portland for Thanksgiving and it turns out QueenJaymz is what is known as a Dark Horse - doesn't say much, except "ante up" and "high flush" and "Shannon, if you're out of chips you can have some of mine." My butt still hurts from the (metaphorical) spanking I got from her.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments on my last post and for pointing out that I missed a few holidays in my "holidays" definition - it was very WASP of me to leave them out. I will amend all my, um, "holiday" cards to read "Merry Chrismukkahkwanzaadanstice"*.

We got home last night, and I spent an hour putting together this Advent calendar I bought last year at Munro's. I had put it away and forgotten about it for a year, and even though it was a couple of days late I was compelled to see it completed. It's a little punch-out paper Weihnachtsmarkt where the numbered trees and buildings open so you can put treats inside. Excuse the blurry photo. It seemed fine while I was taking it...

And the hat and mitten Advent calendar would be finished except I lost a hat or two. They'll turn up as soon as I bind off their replacements, I know.

I finished the Cross-Country Chullo and will provide pictures once it is blocked. It was a fun little knit, didn't take long and turned out nicely.

Amy and Mark, I had a great time at your house. Thank you so much for your hospitality and, Amy, thanks for contributing two mittens to the cause.


* "Chrismukkahkwanzaadanstice" - Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Solstice. I'm sure I'm still forgetting some.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Put the Wife and Kiddies in the Family Car

Tomorrow we're off to visit my brother and his wife in Washington state, for our first ever American Thanksgiving. It's weird that they have it so close to Christmas, but it does rather kick off the season.

And by the way, I've only just realised, like two weeks ago, why Americans say "the holidays" - I always thought they meant Christmas, but I think they mean Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's all very integrated.

It's exciting - I've never been to my brother's house. Like - not just this actual house, but to his home - ever. He lived in North Carolina for the last 14 years, and I just didn't get there. So I'm very much looking forward to making up for lost time.

But there's a complication. We have always been more or less footloose and fancy-free, in terms of going away for weekends or whatever, but this past spring we bought ourselves a $1,000 ball and chain:

So I had to find someone to come stay here with Piper, and spent an hour meticulously writing notes that say things like "Don't use two heat-based appliances at the same time on the east wall of the kitchen - the breaker will blow" and "Bleach under the utility sink in the laundry room for potential dog-related poo disasters (knock on wood)" and "for TV audio select 'VCR' on Pioneer 'input' panel". It's exhausting. When you live in your house, everything works just fine, but when you take a step back and view it through another's eyes, all of a sudden everything is crap and you have to stand on your left leg and close one eye to get the bathroom door to open. But only in damp weather.

Now it's 11.30 PM, and we're leaving at 7.30 AM, and the only thing left to pack is the knitting. I should have done that first, before all the trivial stuff like underpants and contact solution. Now I need a whole 'nother suitcase just for the projects.

Which reminds me I should update you. I started (and have almost finished) the Cross-Country Chullo for a Christmas present (recipient doesn't read blog). It's in two shades of denim blue, which I think should be subdued enough for a guy. Can't wait to block it. Can you see the little Nordic skiers there?

And Jaali is coming along - here's the front:

And the Kauni Christmas stocking continues, though I'm at the heel turn (I opted for a short-row heel to preserve the seeding pattern) and it's taking FOR FREAKING EVER.

So I guess I'll be packing those, plus yarn to finish off the hat-mitt advent calendar. I also need to bring Charlotte's Xmas stocking, which is starting to make me feel a bit panicky because I am nowhere, but nowhere, near done.

You know what's odd? Ten years ago, if I was off somewhere I just put my clothes into a duffel bag and left. Now, before I go anywhere I spend an entire day running around madly charging all this bloody technology that is supposed to make my life more enjoyable. Cell phone, iPod, camera batteries, extra camera batteries, video camera batteries, memory cards and cases for everything. Then you have to remember to take the chargers too, in case your batteries need charging AGAIN while you're away.

By the way, see that message there? I think that's a subtle command from the Matrix. They've got us right where they want us - dependent on technology to live.

But I am also bringing a Rummoli set, and this, which is the most fantastic game ever invented:

Whaddya know! A completely SCREEN-FREE activity! I hardly know how to work it. Where's the mouse? Does it come with a trackpad? Is this the most current version? Are there automatic upgrades?

Cheerio, my beauties. I'll be in touch.

Fame and Fortune

The Canadian Blog Awards have begun again, and Half Soled Boots is nominated in two categories - Best Personal and Best Activities. You can vote here, once per category. By the looks of things I am up against some pretty stiff competition...including the Yarn Harlot for crap's sake. It's a bit of fun anyway - go vote if you're so inclined.

Last year I tried to go to all the nominated blogs so I could vote fairly. This year the list of nominees looked a bit long, so I just voted for myself in the one category, and someone else, whose blog I consider better than mine, in the other. It was only after I voted for them that I realised I was being a putz, and should have just given myself my own vote like everyone else does.

As for other nominees, my friend Belinda has been nominated under the category of Best Religious/Philosophy blog, and my Uncle Dave under Disability Blog. Best of luck to you both...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yann Martel is Never Wrong

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 7 Number 1

by Steven Galloway

I'm noticing something about these books reviews, though it's not universally true - the amount of time that elapses between my reading them and my reviewing of them is inversely proportionate to their quality. This particular one I've just finished ten minutes ago.

The Cellist is one of Yann Martel's gifts to Stephen Harper, and a worthy one. The story takes place in the Siege of Sarajevo, and concerns the aftermath of the shelling massacre of a group of civilians standing in a bread line. A cellist resolves to play a lament on the bombed-out street for 22 days - one for each person killed.

The actual event is true - in fact the cellist who performed the tributes escaped Sarajevo and lives in Ireland...and is not nearly as pleased about the book as I am. But the book is not about the cellist, nor about the shelling that inspired the 22 laments: it is about human reaction to violence and fear. It concerns the inward struggle between honour - a person's moral code - and necessity.

While there is action in this book, the actual story is set in the minds of the characters as much as in the perilous streets. Their memories give the reader a glimpse of the past, and of the beautiful thing Sarajevo once was - and, with that glimpse, a reason to grieve for what it has become.

There are only a few characters, and for the most part their paths don't intersect with each other. Each person has a small job to do during the day we see them: one just has to get water. One has to cross a street - at an intersection covered by a Serb sniper. One is bringing a bottle of expired medicine to someone who needs whatever it can do for her. Another - a young woman with a rifle in her hand - has a darker task.

Their small rituals, their private thoughts, the things they fear and hope for, are the heart of the book. Human stories are always the most gripping, and for Sheer Grippingness, The Cellist of Sarajevo does not disappoint.

Do read this book. Something wonderful happens at the end - wonderful, not necessarily good. It's tiny and sad and symbolic - four words that signify reclamation, redemption, defiance, helplessness, vulnerability, and strength. Watch for it....and let me know what you think.

HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
The Cellist of Sarajevo gets

Reread? Yes
Given to Others? Without reservation.
Bookplate? Yes


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Although I do like a good didgeridoo.

It was my friend's birthday the other day, so off we went with a couple of other girlfriends to have dinner. I asked whether they sold the Ravenswood Zin by the glass, and the waitress said sadly no, they didn't, so I recklessly bought a bottle. At a table with one skinny, underweight one-glass girl, and two teetotallers.

Maybe that accounts for what happened next, which was that we went to a local religious bookstore, for its yearly "Ladies' Night". The name is misleading - there are no strippers and hardly any Jello shots, but I go there almost every year to pick up some discount Christmas cards. This year, unfortunately, nothing leaped out at me but I wandered over to a stack of Christmas CDs marked "$2.97".

Now, you hardly ever get anything good for $2.97. CDs, even less so. But (and this is where the Ravenswood comes in) I picked up the one entitled "Christmas at Home - 20 Panpipe Favorites".


Let me explain. No - there is too much. Let me sum up. In days of yore, around the jolly Yuletide at my childhood's home, we had Zamfir. The glorious master of controlled breathing made peaceful and joyous our Christmas celebrations, and my memory of him is so very, very fond. I was deceived by the woman at the store, who leaned over my shoulder (causing me to almost asphyxiate as a result of immediately ceasing breathing so she wouldn't detect any Zinfandel) and enthused, "Have you heard of Zamfir?" I nodded, wordlessly, afraid to open my mouth. "This is just like that. Except Christmassy."

Because of the trying not to breathe or speak, I didn't mention that there were, in fact, two very Christmassy Zamfir recordings already, but just bought the CD and hightailed it out of there before in my befuddled, bewinéd state I ended up buying, say, a Thomas Kinkade commemorative plate from the Bradford Exchange.

Took the CD home and put it on, and listened in horror as the famous "Zamfir-like Christmas music" filled the room. It was awful. It is exactly what people fear (and, yes, mock) when they hear "panpipes". There was this terrible chipper background music, harpsichord I think, and the flautist himself was no Zamfir, but rather Zamfir's pesky preteen brother who sneaks into Zamfir's room when he's out and messes with his pipes for an hour.

I don't know panpipes - I wouldn't know the business end of a panpipe if you showed it to me, but I can tell when someone is playing it badly. And this was just wrong, wrong. The breath control - shouldn't there be a continuous note longer than eight-tenths of a second? Surely if you're producing a CD, you can come up with something better than this fitful hooting? Man I have heard some bad music in my time, and I am here to tell you nothing could sound more annoying than this CD.

Well, okay, I have thought of a few things that could be worse.

1-Feliz Navidad from the Merry Maracas!
2-Christmas with the Celtic Jaw Harps
3-Yuletide Didgeridoo

Anyway, unfortunately I have opened this slap in the face of art, and can't take it back to the shop and pound it on the counter, demanding my $3 back. I was thinking of raffling it off to some hapless blog reader, but I'm too much of a humanitarian to inflict this kind of agony on my fellow man. I guess it'll just go into the bin with the scratchy cassette AM-radio recording from 1986 of "The Glory of Love" that I dug out of a junk drawer the other week. Either that or I'll give it to someone as a gag gift, causing them to greet me awkwardly for the next six months as they wonder whether or not I even knew what kind of demented cacaphony was on that stupid CD.

I suppose I can be thankful that I never fell for the other $3 albums on that stack - "Christmas at Home - Classical" or "Christmas at Home - Party". My friend, though completely sober, DID buy those two. Next time I see her she'll probably be tear-stained and drawn, with cotton balls in her bleeding ears.

It is too late for her, and for me, but you can still save yourself. Knowing I kept even one person from buying this crazy music would be reward enough. So go, and buy not the $3 CD. Invest in a nice Zamfir album instead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Amends, Part II

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 6, Number 4

Paul Quarrington

Remember King Leary? The Ravine is by the same author, in whose personality I am becoming intensely interested.

King Leary was side-splitting. The Ravine is also very funny, but more complex. It's a novel about the writing of a novel - the narrator is shuffling the account of his life into some sort of order, for a specific purpose: searching for the truth about an incident, a moment of horror, in his childhood. His memories of this incident, memories of the details, are partial and imperfect. In his quest to at once subdue and reconstruct them, he wanders through (literal) rainy streets and (figurative) murky quagmires.

The plot, the premise, the incident itself - all of these things are secondary to the construction, the narrative technique, the character development...and these are excellent. Quarrington's methods are brilliant, subtle, effective. He varies between the mundane and the wildly improbable, keeping the reader in a state of amused bewilderment much of the time. You're not sure, really, how far to suspend your disbelief - how much trust to extend to the narrator. I'm not saying his voice is unconvincing: in fact, the opposite is true - you're so drawn in to his mental reality, and unreality, that you feel like you know him. And, knowing him, you know he's not reliable in the slightest.

The dialogue is clever and much of the significant scenes take place over the phone. There's a weird displacement here - it's so frustrating to feel as if you can't get your fist around the characters. No context, no expression, no description, just lines - and unattributed lines at that. It feels like you're reading an IM without benefit of author tags. These exchanges are brief, and sometimes it's obvious who's talking - but only sometimes.

Significantly, the book closes with a phone conversation in which one of the speakers is clearly the narrator, but the other speaker is not identified. It's very much a "Lady or the Tiger" situation for the reader, where you find yourself re-reading the last scene for clues as to her identity. It's (depending on your personality) interesting, or totally infuriating, that there are no clues. Who the author intends the speaker to be isn't as important as who you decide she is. I both love, and hate, this kind of technique.

At the beginning of this "review" (I'm using finger air-quotes when I say that) I mentioned that I'm becoming intensely interested in Paul Quarrington as a person. Here's why: there are several themes in The Ravine that reminded me of King Leary - especially as I was processing the novel once I'd finished it. Firstly, there is alcoholism. The whole novel is soaking wet. Secondly, there is the character's regret, or possibly remorse, for past actions, and his (largely unwitting) quest for absolution. Thirdly, there are comic visitations from beyond the grave, which advance the character's journey significantly. Lastly, there is the moment where the narrative comes full circle, and the character gets a chance to change something.

I should note that these similarities do not denote any kind of clumsiness on the part of the author - although a few are obvious, others are subtle. It's not like you're sitting there reading, and feeling a queer sense of deja vu. But even if (or maybe especially if?) this pattern is unintentional on the author's part, I feel like I'm learning something about him - it makes me want to buy him a drink and pry into his subconscious. Hopefully I meet him someday, and I can hand him a pint and say "Tell me about your father".

If you liked King Leary, The Ravine will be a very different experience for you. I can't say whether you'll like it or not - it's a more sober story, with fewer big laughs and a more pungent scent of regret. But it is deeper, cleverer, and more important somehow - it occupies a different space in my mind. I'm not really done thinking about it, so if this (again, use your fingers) "review" seems inchoate, forgive me....I suppose that, like the narrator, I haven't fully emerged from The Ravine yet.

HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
The Ravine gets:

Reread: Yes
Given to Others: Judiciously Recommended, let us say...
Bookplate: Yes


Friday, November 14, 2008

Just this one thing...

I hadn't planned much Christmas knitting this year, knowing as I do that such things tend to happen on their own. I'd like to knit a few things for people, but honestly the number of projects is disproportionate to the number of available hours.

I went over to Jodi's blog one day, though, and Lo and Behold she was showing me the most darling, the cutest, the most having little thing I've ever seen. It's Garnet Hill's Hat & Mitten Advent Calendar, and I immediately cast on for it.

I knit three that first evening - the little garments are about 3.5" tall and take about 20-30 minutes to knit. I'm just using stash yarn, although I might have to buy some other colours, or beg scraps off the knit group. So far I have eight:

The colours are somewhat atypical Christmas fare - especially compared to the original version, which is a riot of primaries - but I will probably make more than needed, and swap out some of the unsatisfactory ones. I think the only one that looks incongruous, so far, is the teeny pink and green one. The shades are too clear - every other item is a little muted, or tweedy, or something. It just doesn't fit in.

I am limiting my time on this to three per day because I do have other obligations, such as a bunch of striped i-cord candy canes for a neighbour's project...but I'd rather knit these twee little mittens and hats, at the moment.

Busy weekend planned, so I shall probably see you Monday. I might actually deliver on the promised book review post, though I'm single-parenting all weekend so I won't commit to that.

Cheerio then!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's not like I solved world hunger or anything.

I spent last weekend visiting a friend I haven't seen since we were teenagers. It was great to catch up with her, and to get to know her children a bit. She's just learning how to knit, and we spent a lot of time talking yarn and needles as she worked on a pair of striped legwarmers for her little girl.

Her house is nice. It's an old, kind of rambling place with lots of crown mouldings and built-ins, and it's almost spookily tidy. The kitchen - you should see it. Every time she does anything in there, like makes a cup of tea or gets crackers for her kids, she's wiping down the counters and Vimming the stovetop. It was awe-inspiring.

On one evening, while we were discussing her husband's thinly veiled contempt for her new pastime (but he used the word "obsession") she made a remark like this: "It's not like I sit down and knit during the day, or anything - I'd never do that."

And it all became suddenly clear to me. All I'd need to do, to have a clean house like her, is NOT KNIT during the day!!! Breakthrough!!

When I got home, it was as I feared. My place looked like a tornado hit it, per usual, and even more so when compared with my friend's house, haven of peace and rest that it was. That very evening, I started cleaning.

Yesterday was my first full day at home with no obligations, since coming back from the weekend. I spent the entire day standing up, doing stuff. It was nice for a bit - the countertops were, for once, available for use, and the girls' room looked great. Bunkbeds made, and everything.

I felt pretty good about it all, until I got to the end of the day. I was totally exhausted and irritable, with dishpan hands, and I looked around me and realised that the whole thing was WASTED! WASTED! One whole day and not a THING to show for it. I mean sure, the dishes were done, but I could JUST AS EASILY have done those next morning. And really, a clean house, though an immediately measurable outcome, isn't a lasting one. Three other people live here, none of whom pick up after themselves, which means as soon as I'm finished cleaning something, they mess it up. If I had been crafting, though, no one would have noticed the lack of Clean everywhere, and I'd have something to hold in my hands that would be a mark of time well spent.

So I won't make that mistake again. Lesson learned.

And now I'm sitting here amid the disarray (didn't get to the living room, yesterday) with the kettle on and knitting in my lap. And it feels freaking great.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'T'was 42 nights before Christmas

The mantle clock showed 12:45 AM. The room was dark but for the cool glow before her as she bent to the task that had absorbed her for almost an hour. Keys were tapping steadily as she worked on the list, items coming easily to her mind. "Addi Click Set" was added right after "Wrist Distaff" and "Nostepinne".

"Gift Certificates" came next, with three sub-bullets: "Fun Knits", "N&A" and "Boutique du Laine".

She frowned at the waiting cursor. It occurred to her that her list, although long, was limited. Not everyone, she reasoned with herself, would want to go into a yarn store or to an online spinning shop and order craft-related gifts for her. After all - and this was almost incomprehensible - some people might think it was a little.....boring. She sat back for a moment and stared around the dim room. She was seeking ideas - answers. She was trying to expand her mind, trying to take in more than the single world which so happily consumed her.

After the light and sharpness of the screen, the darkened room was hard to see - all blurred edges and deep shadows. As her eyes adjusted, though, she could make out a bit of the kitchen from where she sat. How about a dye pot? she mused.

She caught sight of the DVD case on top of her stereo, almost lost under a hastily-deposited collection of junk mail and copied patterns. Maybe some Elizabeth Zimmermann....maybe the Knitting Workshop?

Her eyes brightened as they fell on the bookshelves, the many spines unreadable in the semi-dark. Books. Perfect. She pulled the laptop closer and her fingers flew over the keys for one last row. Intentional Spinning, she wrote, Shear Spirit, Knitting Estonian Lace, Sensational Socks, and anything by Veronik Avery.

Select All, Copy, Paste into the email window. Type the nicknames of all her loving family in the To: line, with the subject "In case you need some ideas for Christmas..." Send.

She closed the laptop with a happy sigh. It felt good to be able to think outside the needles and yarn for a change. A quick pat for the puppy sleeping at her feet, and she was off to bed...visions of niddy-noddies dancing in her head.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wandering I

Everyone has been so productive lately, posting every day for National Blog Posting luckily there will be a lot for you to read other places and you might not notice that hardly anything is going on over here.

It's portfolio week, actually, and as usual I'm a bit behind. I hand it in today, then we're off for the weekend to visit a friend and get out of Mr HSB's way - he's been prepping for a certification exam next weekend, so I've been single-parenting for a few weeks now. He does emerge from the cone of silence at bedtime and usually brushes someone's teeth, which is a help, but otherwise it's all me.

I was craving some respite a few days ago and wandered into the library with the kids. In order to get to the kids' section you walk past a stack labelled "Romance". I usually don't even look at it but on that day, I suddenly realised it had been ages since I read a bodice-ripper and, feeling overwhelmed by responsibility as I was, thought I'd read a bit of escapism for a change. I glanced over at the shelf and burst out laughing at the first title I saw - "Bedded by the Desert King". Of course, into the bag it went, along with the second title I saw, which was, and I'm not kidding, "Bunking Down With the Boss". There's definitely a theme here.

Anyway, I read "Desert King" in an hour or so, squirming inwardly all the while at the horrid prose and embarrassing triteness, contrived dialogue and fabricated conflicts.

Plus there wasn't nearly enough actual bedding.

So "Bunking Down" was next and I actually liked that one a bit more, except it's the difference between eating a cockroach and eating a worm. Better, but still horrible.

Now I'm cracking open The Cellist of Sarajevo with a sigh of relief.

And I'm off to a friend's for the weekend, so I will be continuing mute until at least Monday. On Monday, I've got a few books to show you that I think you'll like.

No ripping bodices, though.

Monday, November 03, 2008

How do you say "Bling" in Chinese?

I got the neatest gift from Uncles Joe and Dave a couple of months ago. They sent me a piece they had picked up back in the dawn of time, from an ancient Chinese man selling jewelry on the beach in San Francisco. The jewelry was composed of found and reclaimed items. They decided it was time for the necklace to have a new home, and sent it to me.

Dave says the long pieces, such as the one pictured below, are finger tips. But the rest of the components are more mysterious.

Dave made this remark about you guys - you readers, that is. He said "You seem to have some quite intelligent people who read your blog - ask if one of them can translate any of the Chinese characters."

It was very tricky to get good pictures, especially of the shiny bits, but can any of you Intelligentsia shed some light here?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My kind of (US) political commentary

Jean, thank you - this site IS delicious.

Edit: And I can't listen to this without squirming. Oh those naughty Canadians.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jenny's website

A website has been set up for my knitter friend Jenny. Updates on her progress will be posted there.

Please stop by the site and leave her your best wishes - she could use some good energy now, and when she wakes up.

A note on donation: read Karen's comment of October 31 - there is some question as to the accountability of those collecting for Jenny. Prudence demands that you refrain from donation at least until the uncertainty is cleared up.

Basket of Bobbles, Finished

Ruby's Christmas sweater is finished, blocked, sewn, woven, pressed, bezippered, betasselled and reblocked.

Pattern: from Better Homes & Gardens' Knitting Year Round
Yarn: Naturally's Loyal DK (pewter) and Sandnesgarn Smart DK (melon & lime)
Needle: 4.00 mm bamboo circular
Tension: not sure
Finished size: 3X

I bribed my daughter with a cookie again (sugar - the key to effective parenting) and got some FO pictures of this, my second commissioned garment (and third). She is four and a half, so the sweater is a bit too small for her - it pulls on the zipper a little. Shouldn't be a problem on a 2 year old.

I thought about captioning these, but they tell a perfect story on their own. Enjoy...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Imperfect, Inimitable

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 6 Number 3
by Kathryn Berenson

I've been meaning to tell you about this book for a long time. I got it a year or two ago and I've been reading it off and on ever since, trying to work up the courage to try this beautiful incarnation of the textile arts.

Broderie de Marseilles is a method of quiltmaking in which two layers of fabric are densely quilted, by hand, with no batt in between. There are often several parallel rows of stitching on the edges of the piece, with the centres featuring designs of flowers, suns, and plants. There are extant pieces featuring more abstract designs, too - usually in a very romantic style. Lots of swirls and curlicues.

Once the entire piece has been quilted, the finished item is corded and stuffed - that is, each individual channel between quilted rows, or each quilted pocket, is stuffed with cotton. To do this, the quilter uses a needle to carefully open a space between the threads of the fabric until it is wide enough to admit a darning needle. She threads a piece of cotton cording into the eye and runs the needle through the channel until the entire channel is corded. She cuts the cord, manipulates the end in through the hole in the fabric, then wiggles that hole closed with her needle. If it is a pocket that needs stuffing, she opens a hole as before, then uses a needle to curl the cording tightly into the pocket, bit by painstaking bit. The holes are all closed up afterwards, and the entire piece is washed.

It takes an unbelievable amount of time, and careful work. When I first saw the book, I was drawn to the gorgeous finished pieces and declared to all, "I am going to learn this technique and make a bed-cover!" Then I read on a little bit and decided, "I'd better make a table runner instead." Then I got to the part with the templates and the instructions for cording and stuffing, and thought to myself "I could really use a coaster."

This book is a sumptuously presented, intelligently arranged blend of history, instruction, and eye candy. Stunning photographs depict gorgeous, brilliantly-coloured textiles, dated from as early as the 18th century. There are closets full of antique quilts, sofas covered in folded florals, and dress forms garbed in authentic Provençal regional costume. There are instructions and templates for 11 projects ranging in difficulty from an easy placemat (in imitation broderie de Marseilles) to an advanced single-piece, corded and stuffed wedding quilt in ivory silk.

What impresses me most about this beautiful book is not the inspiration to try the technique - although I am dying to, one of these days - or the respect I feel for these women who clothed their families in this incredible art. What I think about most is the concept of regional dress: the idea that at one time, any given People expressed their identity, their history, their place in the world, and their sense of community through clothing and textiles.

I thought of this book when I was at the Fleece and Fibre Fair, walking around the venue and taking in the knitters, crocheters, felters, and spinners all around me. There isn't one unified dress sense, at all, but there is a unified pride in our accomplishments. Some people are visibly....well I must say tickled pink to be wearing their first botchy, lopsided hat, while buying more yarn to make coordinating chunky mittens. Others are standing watching the spinners, their backs straight and their heads carried with quiet pride above dreamily soft, perfectly-executed lace shawls in baby alpaca.

It was, really, the incarnation of what people refer to as "the fibre arts community". We aren't neighbours, we share neither a place nor a history. We are united not by a common tradition, but by our love for the craft. Maybe there isn't a region, strictly speaking, but there is a regional dress: there was so much Handmade in that hall, it was exhilirating just to breathe such a creatively-charged atmosphere.

I don't imagine the Marseilles needlewomen felt quite the same way about their handwork as we do. In the days before widespread mechanisation, it was nothing extraordinary to clothe one's family entirely in garments made by one's own hands. The extraordinary thing, in fact, would have been to spend the family's money purchasing clothing and linens when you could make them yourself.

Then, as now, the beauty of these items is in their uniqueness: no two pieces are exactly alike. It's a little depressing to look around me, sometimes, and realise just how many things in my house are mass-produced, and therefore also in the homes of hundreds and thousands of other people. I like to think of myself as an individual, a non-conformist, but the reality is I buy the same Rubbermaid bins and Levis jeans as everyone else does.

Times have changed. Making your own clothes isn't unheard of, but wearing them is much less usual. I like to see people taking pride in the works of their hands. I like the feeling of wearing something I've made, and I don't mind when people ask me, "Did you knit that yourself?" As some never tire of pointing out, you can buy a sweater for $40 at the Bay. But nobody can buy MY sweater. I made it myself, and there'll never be another like it.

One of these busy, full days, I'll try some broderie de Marseilles. I have some fabric that I bought specially to try it, and I have even sketched out a template for a stylised sun, very much in the Provençal style. It's a little intimidating, but I think if I'm patient and careful I can do it. I'd like to have something that no one else has - even if it's just a coaster.