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, bewin├ęd 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 Month...so 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?