Monday, April 28, 2008

A Brilliant Conclusion

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 3, Number 2

by CS Richardson

Right after I finished this book last week, I sat down to write a review. The problem was, with the few chapters of this slim volume still achingly, agonisingly clear in my memory, I couldn't come up with anything that even distantly approached rational, clear-headed or emotionally stable. Everything I wrote sounded like Sylvia Plath on the day she forgot to take her Paxil.

A week has gone by. I think I've regained my equilibrium somewhat, and I'm ready to give it another go.

The End of the Alphabet is a little book, the author's first. There are only two characters, Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi. (And, really, what more can you possibly want out of a character's name?) Ambrose, receiving word from his doctor that he has an imminently terminal illness, sets out with his wife to fulfil his lifelong dream of travelling the world using the alphabet as his itinerary. They begin in Amsterdam, and progress through as many letters as they are able - one location per day in an almost-frenzied need to check off this last of his life's ambitions.

He collected French-cuffed shirts as others might collect souvenir spoons or back issues of National Geographic. He rarely wore ties but liked them as challenges in graphic design. His footwear was predominantly Italian, loaferish and bought in the sales on Oxford Street.

The only critical analysis I feel able to give is on the author's choice to omit quotation marks. I read Cry, the Beloved Country years ago and hated it - utterly deplored the directionless, unattributed dialogue that seemed, to me, pretentious and experimental. Maybe it's because age has brought me insight (unlikely), but in The End of the Alphabet I loved this device. It's perfectly, beautifully suited to a novel about the difference between what we say and what we don't - how what is in our hearts sounds so different on our lips. You're never sure, reading the dialogue, what words are spoken and what words are cried, silently.

Her eyes were creased at the corners. She wore glasses when reading. The glasses were purchased in a small shop in Paris, around the corner from an antiquarian bookshop.

It doesn't take long to read, but you don't soon forget this framed, sunlit snapshot of the last weeks of a life. Delicate, prolonged moments in their clarity and sorrow are interspersed with tiny, urgent grains of panic.

You can't help but ask yourself, what have I left undone? And why?

The End of the Alphabet gets:
Reread? Definitely
Given to Others? Yes
Bookplate? Yes


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Frothy Pink Confection

This is the second of my completed Amy March's Slippers for the knitalong. They are for my daughter Emily (now 4) who is quite chuffed with them.

Amy March's Petit Slippers

Pattern: Stephanie Dosen
Yarn: Paton's Shetland Chunky, colourway 03425 "Frosted Rose"
Needles: 2 5mm Clover Takumi bamboo circulars
Tension: I don't know. I just reached for the ruler and knocked a glass frame containing a picture of my sister and her husband to the floor, where it broke, and now I have to throw salt over my shoulder or something to break the bad omen so I'm too busy to check the tension. 4 sts per inch, maybe? Not sure. Distracted just now by doing the hokey pokey backwards.
Ribbons: FabricIand, one picot-edged satin and one satin-edged poly organza.
  1. Cast on six to each needle as directed, but only increased (every row) to 24.
  2. Knitted five rounds total before beginning the rib.
  3. Used a 2X2 rib over centre 8 stitches of top (p1 k2 p2 k2 p1).
  4. After short-rowing the heel, (where the pattern as given directs you to thread your ribbon through) picked up 10 stitches along one side edge, then knitted the held toe stitches, then picked up 10 more along the other side.
  5. Knitted one round to add height to the edge of the slipper, decreased 1 stitch at each side of the toe for shaping.
  6. Bound off every other stitch.
  7. Ran elastic through all live stitches, put on foot, pulled up to tighten, and tied knot.
  8. While still on foot, wove ribbon through to cover elastic.
This was a cute pattern. It's very organic, so you need to be aware when knitting it that you might have to do some adjustments to suit yourself. Luckily, it's a quick knit and a small number of stitches, so this isn't a huge problem.

The elastic is a really good idea. The slipper is kind of low and the ribbons don't really hold them on well, because they have to be loose enough to pull on your foot. Just pick up a 1/4" elastic of an appropriate colour (my store has white and black, plus nude for lingerie purposes) and use that. Make sure you adjust the tightness with the slipper on - when the slipper is off, the elastic will pull the slipper quite a bit out of shape so you won't be able to tell if it's right unless it's on your foot.

I used the same exact method for my daughter's slippers as I did for mine. Using a slightly finer yarn and a smaller needle worked great for adjusting the size.

I'll make these again, for sure. I would like to eventually have a bunch of them in the house during the winter, since my kids are (typically) resistant to socks and always complain of cold feet. I think lots of these will look really pretty thrown into a basket in the living room.

Thanks Stephanie!

I hear Plato was eating breakfast when he composed the Iliad

Has anyone else noticed that H0ney Nut Cheeri0s used to be more nutty? There were little brown flecks on the Cheeri0s and they were quite crunchy, not too sweet, right? Well now they're smooth and white and sugary. Look at this picture - they look like....what, doughnuts maybe?

Not as good as they used to be. Not nearly as good.

Plus now that I've seen them this close up, I don't think I can even eat them again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Bruised my Butt Falling off the Wagon

All right, I really let you all down today. It's supposed to be Messy Tuesday and I cleaned up.

What happened was, I realised yesterday that my sister was going to be in town this week - she arrived last night, actually, and she is not one who wallows in the disarray. In consideration of her preferences, I cleaned up.


Anyway, look! Over there! It's a cute doggie!

Aw, he's so cute when he smiles like that!

Don't tell me it's just gas.

Snuffly kiss for you.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Here's What Really Happened

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 3, Number 1

by Paul Quarrington

"Percival, old bean, I'm afraid we're done like kippers!"

My lovely CBC Radio told me politely, when I woke one morning, that King Leary was the 2008 Canada Reads winner. On picking it up I saw that it had also won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. I was a bit surprised about that, because I would have expected the Canada Reads winner to be....I don't know, heavier, maybe.

On the day that I took my four year-old daughter to a pediodontist to be sedated, gassed, shot with novocaine and have drill bits taken to her front teeth, I started King Leary in the waiting room. But I only got a chapter read before I realised I was doing a totally inappropriate amount of laughing. Other, less relaxed parents were looking at first amused, then suspicious, then disapproving as my grins became snickers, then my snickers became chortles, then my chortles became guffaws.

In Grade 4 I was asked to leave a classroom because it was "silent reading" time and, as I was highly amused by my book, I was not being silent enough for Miss Floral Print Dress. She said "Shannon, please go into the hall until you can control yourself". As much as I resented it at the time, I can't help but appreciate the lesson I learned, which stood me in good stead on the day I started reading King Leary.

After I left the waiting room, I devoured as much of this book as I possibly could. Between kids, family, cooking and dishes, I managed it in a couple of days. I went around for quite some time afterwards, thinking about it.

This is another book that is one thing at the start, and another at the end. The title character, Percival "King" Leary, is a former hockey star withered and aged and living in a nursing home. He is a faithful and evangelising drinker of Canada Dry ginger ale. He gets a call one day from an ad agent wanting him to do a ginger ale commercial in Toronto, for a whopping "ten thou". During his journey to Toronto and the few days he spends there, he relives his memorable and coloured past in a series of flashbacks that, as the pages turn, begin to replace his current reality.

I like flashback novels, especially when they're written in the first person. After I've read one, I spend hours pondering one question: is the narrator telling the truth? There's never a satisfactory answer to this, of course, which is the whole point. As my homeopath says, "Facts don't really matter. Your perception is what's important."

The narrative voice is very keen. It's consistent, and it's grounded. King Leary could be sitting there, on the other end of the bench at the mall, telling you something interesting, some 60 year-old story, that still lives and breathes behind his thick glasses. He's boastful and adamant, wry and stubborn. He forgets, and remembers, and thinks for a second that you are his nephew.

"To Keep a Boy Out of Hot Water, Put Him on Ice"

Definitely, definitely pick this up. And let me know what you think of it...just don't blame me if you get kicked out of class for laughing too loudly.

HalfSoled Boots' New, Highly Specialised, Book Rating System

King Leary Gets the Following:
Given to Others?
? Yes

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Awwww! and Brrr.

Whew! Okay, having a puppy is exhausting.

And, obviously, being a puppy is equally exhausting.

I have finished one of my Amy March's Slippers, and hope to do the other tomorrow. My one foot is kind of cold.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Amy March's Slippers - Day One

Good afternoon everyone! Today is the first day of the Amy March Slippers Knitalong, with your kind and attentive hosts, Bethro and Challoner. I know some people jumped the gun and did their slippers early - and test knitting is always constructive, so good for you.

As for me, things have been busy around here the last 24 hours, so I don't know how quickly I'll get these done, but I have begun precisely on schedule.

I had to buy some chunky weight yarn for these slippers, as it's a weight I don't normally keep in the stash. I was in MichaeI's last week and got these.

The Shetland Chunky is the colour I prefer, but I thought the weight wouldn't be quite right...since I wanted to make more than one pair anyway, I picked up the Wool-Ease. It's got a lower wool content than I normally like but it takes all kinds to make up a stash...or something.

Anyway, I cast on today with my beloved magic loop method, using Meg Swansen's Turkish cast on. I think. I'm never sure what the difference is between the Turkish and the figure 8 cast on.

And here I am modelling the first twelve rounds against the backdrop of my Messy Tuesday post. This is what happens when a puppy prances into the house and you immediately discover the fifteen or twenty things you thought were up high enough but weren't. (And when you have tea twice and forget to put both pots away, and pin out your Cap Shawl and forget to put the pins away, and....and....and....)

More tomorrow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ain't it something?

Piper, meet Everybody.

Everybody, meet Piper.

Charlotte is his favourite person so far.

Taking a sniff and a nibble of every thing in my yard proved to be an exhausting feat.

You'll be seeing a lot of him, I expect.

I'll be back tomorrow...right now the old cross-trainers are calling me and I need to go get my heartrate up for a bit.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

In Which I Show Fondness for My Readers.

I've been meaning to post a progress picture of the Cap Shawl for ages, but the whole process made me tired just thinking about it. You slip all the stitches on as many needles as necessary, being really, really careful not to drop any of them, and you pin the whole works out, take a picture, and slip the stitches all back on to your needle. It takes ages.

And you see, my darlings, how much I love you - I did it.

I used five long circulars for this, and didn't get the entire thing done, which is why you only see a photo of about 45% of the outside edge. The rest is all bunched up on one needle at the bottom of the frame.
I am on row 107 of about 170, which is deceptive because the rows get longer and longer as you go. Then there is the knitted-on border, which will take tons of yarn and FOREVER to do. A more accurate idea of my progress would be to say, I have used up almost one of the three required balls of yarn.

Pretty, though, isn't it?

And tomorrow, precious poppets, is Puppy Pick-up Day. Pictures forthcoming!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Specifically speaking....

The days, they do go by. Here it is Messy Tuesday again, and I almost forgot to chronicle my slatternly ways.

I realised, when reading over last week's post, that you could probably put together a documentary just using the material from my Messy Tuesday posts. What I mean by that is, I am giving way too much detail.

I present to you the new, streamlined Messy Tuesday post.

Here's the mess:

it's my coffee table. This has been here for at least six weeks. It's an old mess - a comfortable mess. The kind of mess that thumps its tail on the hearthrug when you get home. I'm rather fond of it.

And here's what I did instead of cleaning it up:

which got me these,

which were delicious.

Monday, April 07, 2008

It will, indeed.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 2, Number 4

William Maxwell

I saw this book on the sidebar of January One, quite a while ago, and thought it looked interesting. This is because I routinely judge books by their covers.

I asked at the local bookshop about the title, and was told that they could try to get it in, but they probably would not succeed. I said "Don't bother, then, since I don't even know if I want to read it". Sadly, their customer service was too good and a few months later the phone rang: hey presto! they had it. The book was waiting for me to pick it up.

The problem with this particular store is that they have a "restocking charge" for special orders that are not wanted after all. I stood in the shop, turning the paperback over and over in my hand, repeatedly glancing at the $23 price tag, trying to decide whether to submit to the restocking charge, try to get out of it by shifting blame onto them for ordering it, or suck it up and take the chance on the unknown book, by an unknown author. After five minutes or so my mother, exasperated, grabbed the book and threw it on the counter, cast me a fulminating glance, and bought it for me.

(Thanks Mum!)

The story is set in small-town Illinois, 1912, and is primarily concerned with events in and around a small family during one year. It's a novel of characters, really - the plot events are only secondary to the central conflicts. I like this kind of book very much. It's so very interesting to witness and dissect humanity in all its pathos.

The beginning is quite promising. The opening scene is one between husband and wife, behind their closed bedroom door shortly before an extended family party. Their conversation is intimate, but uneasy. I found myself taking sides right away. This was strange - usually it takes me a few chapters to get to know characters, to understand their motivations and to care about their fate. Time Will Darken It hooked me in right at the start.

The book is strongly visual. It seems to me that writers of that era (this one was published in 1948) spent a lot of attention, time and words on the scene: I often notice that when reading a novel from the mid-20th century, I'm left with a strong sensory impression. When you're reading Time Will Darken It, you can see the prairie grass, feel the shimmering heat, hear the step on the stairs. If I ever found myself in whichever midwest town inspired Draperville, I should recognise it right away.

From the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a certain book. Then, with the turn of one particular page, I found that I was reading a different one entirely. It's like when you are on the lake in August, just off the beach where women are chatting and children playing, lying on an air mattress with your fingers trailing in the water. Eyes are closed against the sun, sand drying on your knees, the breeze drifts you along in an endless moment of warmth. All of a sudden you come back to yourself, realise the voices have faded away and the wind has picked up. You open your eyes to find you've drifted all the way out past the bay and now you're right over the deep, black, cool water and you've maybe got an unpleasant swim ahead of you.

I like sudden plunges into shocking cold. I like feet of clay that eventually crumble. I like the fly in the ointment, the twist in the tale.

And I think I'm going to be ordering some more William Maxwell books.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Because if you mean what I think you mean, my uncles are going to bitch-slap you.

Mr Half Soled Boots and I were watching Big Brother 9 a few nights ago. One of the houseguests, a Texan, is the last one left of the house's two obligatory gay guys. After behaving like an arrogant and duplicitous asshat for the last several weeks, then bursting into "crocodile tears" in a last desperate bid for votes, he finally got evicted. Once out of the house, he turned on the smarm full blast to charm the show's host, Julie Chen. He did the double-hand-handshake, flashed his too-white teeth and repeated the annoying and pervasive (and usually false) phrase, "it's all good".

Mr HSB snorted in disgust and remarked, "They're all arrogant like that."

I glanced at him and said suspiciously, "Who are 'all like that'?"

He shook his head, reached for another handful of popcorn, and said disdainfully, "Texans."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Status Quo

"That’s the biggest mess the world has seen!!!”
Mom yelled at me quite loud.
But it’s a new world’s record so you’d think that she’d be proud.

-Gregory K

(copied with implicit permission from here)

Ah, yes. Once again it is Messy Tuesday. I was so disorganised today I almost forgot to post about the disarray. Which, really, is a sign of undoubted success.

Let's start with something nice and light. One might call it an aperitif of disorder.

Toys are kind of a gimme for Messy Tuesday, if you're a household with kids. In this picture I particularly like how the Amy Morris doll is peering up at me like I've just caught her with her hand in the till. Actually her hand is in the lemonade stand. But you'll also note the roll of Christmas wrap, which really ought to be moved. I'll think about that while I show you this:

This is Mr HalfSoledBoots' side of the bed. I like the composition of this photo because a lot of different aspects of our lives are represented. You see the Bible there, in the black case - Religion. You see the blood pressure monitor and the empty Kleenex box - Health. There is the Usborne "Big Book of Picture Puzzles" - Family, and also Education. You see in the upper-left the upside-down witch hat belonging to Emily's Hallowe'en costume - Philosophy. Then there are the urban planning periodicals - Career. Lastly you have a little scrap of quilting fabric wrapped in a promotional band - Hobbies - and a pair of bobby pins - Personal Care.

(Admiring applause?)

I have saved the most desperate mess for last. You will probably think it's no big deal, but here is my craft corner:

I call this a Desperate Mess because of that wicker basket you see there. It's huge. It's about 40 centimeters deep, maybe 50 wide, and probably about 80 long. And it's packed so full that its density is probably distorting the gravitational pull of earth. I briefly thought about doing some calculation on the bulk density of X number of knitting projects in Y amount of space, but stopped when I began to bleed from the ears. Suffice it to say there is a lot of yarn there - the appearance of the topmost layer is deceptive - something like the placid surface of a cauldron pool under which some lethal and seething monster lies dormant.

Interestingly, I have been looking for my headphones for two days and it's only just now that I notice they're on top of the wicker white dwarf.

In the face of the mess - albeit contained - that the wicker basket represents, those sloppy-looking plastic bags, and the cardboard box in which my Starmore kit arrived and in which it still languishes, are laughable.

I showed you mine - now you show me yours.

Meme item number 6: I took first-year Astronomy in university. I got an A- in the course, and an A+ in the lab. It turns out Physics, like a lot of other things, is just about being careful and printing neatly. (Luckily I didn't take it long enough to explore more deeply and find out I am wrong, and stupid.)