Thursday, December 24, 2009

Good Yule!

The air in the house is full of cardamom, cinnamon, bay and clove...and excitement: tonight is Christmas Eve.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I thought of you all on solstice a few days ago, while lighting my midwinter's eve candles, and wished you peace and light.


Thanks to Charles Dickens, the very words I am searching for are already written for me:

May it be truly said of us, and all of us....that we know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge.

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mailmen in Capes.

Today I bring you the Heroes of Christmas.

My lovely Canada Post showed up today with the Christmas box from my sister, brought from 2000 kilometers away, regular ground, in three days. Applause!

Not an hour later, another truck pulled up.
with my December Usborne book order. Nothing makes me happier than getting huge boxes full of glossy new, freezing cold, info-stuffed schoolbooks. Especially when I've used my homeschool funding to buy them, and some of them are things like "365 Things to Draw and Paint" and "Christmas Fairy Things to Make and Do", and I can wrap them up and put them under the tree. Ha! Even though it's totally honest and above-board, it makes me feel like I am getting away with something.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - and he is wearing a blue jacket with a badge that says

Friday, December 11, 2009

Spitting Distance

Oh, I am almost there!!!!!

The trees at top left, a bit of snow lines, some backstitching on the central figures...and Charlotte's stocking will be done and dusted. A mere six years in the making, this has to be one of the more complex cross-stitch pieces I've done. I like it, but it's definitely time for this to move on, and out into the world. BEGONE.

Lots of other things going on around here, needlewise, but the Christmas gag order is firmly in place. Later!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And Santa gets 15-20.

A city councillor with a megaphone, at the tree-lighting part of our (small) city's Santa parade:

COUNCILLOR [JOLLY]: We're going to turn these lights on in just a minute, folks: First, here's Shelby! She's the lucky little girl who won the contest to go into the bushes with Santa and hunt for the Magic Button!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Get (Ab)used to it.

I've had a lot of mail and comments about my last post. It's been amazing...thank you so much for that.

I had an email exchange with someone yesterday, prompted by "Carborundum", and it led me to think more deeply about children's experience in traditional school. Normally I wouldn't carry on about any subject two days in a row, but in this case there really is more to say.

Often (like, very often), when people confront me about socialisation, they say things like “kids have to know how to deal with bullies...if they are never exposed to bullying and negative situations like that, they won’t be used to it.”

I always wonder whether they are even hearing themselves. “Getting used to bullies”, translated, is “suffer through it, and learn to avoid them”. What kind of society do we have, when we willingly and daily expose our children to damage, just so that they get used to being exposed to damage?

Because it serves no other end – once school is over, the need to tolerate bullies is obsolete. If it comes up in the workplace, it’s called “harassment” and it’s illegal. On the street from a stranger, it’s called “assault” and it’s illegal. In your home from your partner it’s called “domestic violence”’s illegal.

A 6-year-old girl comes home from Grade One in tears. Mean boy is bothering her. Next morning, she has a stomach ache. Mom says, "You can't just stay home - you've got to learn to deal with it." A month later, girl is throwing up every morning and crying all the way to school. Mom says "I told her to ignore him - he's only doing it for attention. [Laughing] I told her it's the way boys show they like you. Anyway I talked to her teacher: she's going to try to put them into different groups." Two years later, the girl is 8. The boy is still in her class. He hasn't changed, but she doesn't complain about him much anymore. She has started odd behaviours, though: mostly playing her girl friends off against one another, and pushing some of the younger kids around.

A 7-year-old boy with a life-threatening anaphylactic peanut allergy is on the playground at lunch. A group of older boys approach, hands in pockets. They pull their hands out and begin to throw pebbles at him, yelling at him that what they are throwing are peanuts. "You're gonna die!!" The boy's friend, panicked, tries to block the 'peanuts' with his body, crying to his friend "RUN!" The principal, when notified, advises that he avoid those boys in future. Later that year, there is a girl who has never liked the boy. Her parents think "peanut-free" infringes on their child's rights. They send peanut butter to school with her. She walks down the hallway outside his classroom after lunch, with her PB-smeared fingers trailing along the wall.

Five years and many incidents later, the parents decide to homeschool the child for his own safety. Now he's 13 years old. It has been 18 months since he was removed from that school. He still remembers, with an edge of panic, that day with the pebbles.

Mr HalfSoledBoots and I are walking downtown in Victoria. We are on a crosswalk when an SUV nearly hits us. It passes so close that Mr HSB reaches out and slaps his hand, hard, on the back window. The SUV screeches to a halt. Five young men pour out of it. One of them, huge and staring, shoves my husband into a parking meter while roaring a stream of profanity. He rears back, fists clenched, and spits into my husband's face. His friends pull him away and they take off.

A cyclist walks up to us, leading his bike. "I saw the whole thing," he says. "Next time try not to get in their way."

No. He says "I've called the police. I'll be your witness."

The young man is charged with assault. We identify him in a photo lineup. He goes before a judge.

My friend, aged 25. Married to a bully. A year or so after the wedding, he starts to push her around. Nothing major at first. (The punching comes later.) She tells me about it. What is my response?
"Ignore him."
"I guess he must really like you."
"He's just trying to get a reaction."
"Don't give him the satisfaction."
"Stay out of his way."
"Try not to be alone with him."


What makes school the exception? Why don't the rules apply there, too? We tell toddlers to respect others, not to snatch, not to yell, not to hit, not to make mean faces. Adults are expected to know that. But in a school? ignore them. Next year they'll move to middle school. Try to stay near the teacher. They're just trying to get a rise out of you. Don't go out of sight of the playground monitor. Stay together.

As a parent who has chosen alternative education, the burden of proof is on me. People want evidence, constantly, that homeschool is effective. I have to prove that my kids are just as good at math as their mainstream peers. I have to prove that they can speak articulately, print neatly, make eye contact, and are getting at least 20 minutes of exercise per day. I am expected to be proud and relieved (and the worst part is I am proud and relieved) when someone gives me a surprised compliment: "Oh my goodness! Your kids are so well-behaved!" Or once, at a party, after several minutes spent quizzing her (I was not present): "Your little girl already knows all her colours...good job."

I want the burden of proof to be on the mainstream for a change. I want proof that children in their system are well socialised. I'd like schools to have to prove that their environment is loving, supportive, intolerant of violence and hatred. And that the people coming out of it are articulate, polite, egalitarian, responsible, thoughtful, erudite, and well-rounded.

I want the public system to prove, using real, valuable benchmarks, and real, concrete, personal examples, that it is worthy of being given your children for 30 hours a week.

I suspect I'll be waiting a while.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I was at a party tonight. It was a craft thing. I was sitting next to a woman who, when she heard that I homeschool, had this to say.

Challengingly: "Oh, so you don't send them to real school."

Well, no.

"How old are they?"

Eight and five.

"Oh, five, so she's not in school then."

Yes, she's in Kindergarten, we homeschool.

Dismissively: "Kindergarten! Hmph. Homeschool kindergarten. So you don't send her to real school, like."

Pause...No, we do kindergarten at home.

"I don't know what you'd do for kindergarten at home."

Well, you'd be surprised. The ministry likes it, anyway.

"I don't approve, as you can see. [I'm thinking, of kindergarten? of the ministry?] I'm an old schoolteacher from way back. [Oh. Of homeschool.] And here's why. It's the socialisation, you see. Those children, those home children, when they go to real school they don't know how to behave. Ask any teacher, they'll tell you those children who are kept at home..."they don't know how to play", they'll say, when they go to real school."

Feeling my face turn red as my needle-felting increases in speed and ferocity.

I didn't make a verbal response. There were so many things to choose from. I could have gone with any of these.

1. I'm interested in your definition of socialisation. Do you mean that my children will not be aware of the proper pecking order among a barely-supervised and potentially harmful gang of 30 children, all the same age? Because Thank God.

2. When you say "don't know how to play", I'm wondering whether you mean that a child who is put in a concrete box to do worksheets for six hours a day, and periodically released to run among 75 or 100 other 6-9 year olds on large, plastic, specially-built gym structures...that this child knows how to play? And that my child, whose time is largely her own and is expected to fill it with reading, games, puzzles, outside explorations, conversations with her family and friends of various ages - and yes, TV - doesn't know how to......what? have fun? Get all the way across the monkeybars? Or, do you mean that she doesn't know how to manage the dynamic of love-hate friendship politics, rule following, and peer aggression on the playground? See item 1.

3. Homeschooled or not, my children are obviously far better socialised than you are, since neither of them would dream of saying something so rude to a total stranger at a party.

4. Get back, bitch.

But I said nothing because I realised something she didn't: that I was at a Christmas party, in someone else's house, making a felted angel and polite conversation with people who weren't sure of my first name. So I smiled at someone else, willed the angry flush away, and took the high road.

I had plenty of time to think about this exchange during the couple of hours I was there. I didn't have much to say...I was in a new place with a new group of people, after all. I wasn't there to be a loudmouth, to defend my family choices, or to proselytise for alternative education. It certainly wouldn't be me who made the hostess feel awkward and uncomfortable by holding a hostile and defensive conversation at her Christmas party.

I thought about my own experience at school. I remembered how often I dodged into the K-1 cloakroom or the girls' bathroom, or the dark and deserted equipment room, to avoid someone mean, whose voice I could hear coming down the hall. I remembered days of boredom and repetition. I remembered certain years, certain grades when I didn't think I'd make it out alive, and others marked by happy friendships....well, friendships I remember as being happy.

I went through the system, and I came out of it okay. I'd say, though, that I got educated despite school, rather than because of it.

Not that it didn't teach me a few things. It taught me to fear the disapproval of others. It taught me that if a perceived authority figure questions my choices, I probably made a serious mistake. It taught me all kinds of interesting things about how wrong I look, how unacceptable I am physically, and that my role as a female is largely concerned with escaping the notice of predators. The list of things I learned that I am no good at.....well, let's just say it's long.

A lot of my life afterwards has been about recovery. Many of the choices I make now, as a parent, are about protecting my children from that early harm which I feel left permanent marks on me. My choices for their education are a reflection of my philosophy, and all the things I've learned and taught in the last 30 years.

I sat there tonight, quietly listening to bits of other conversations, and doing my felted angel craft. I started with two pipe cleaners, the same as everyone else, and hunted through the shared bag of coloured wool to make the body and robe of my angel.

The only one with purple butterfly wings.

The only one with black hair.

The only one with brown skin.

The only one that was completely different.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lily Chin's Knitting Tips and Tricks

Review Month at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 10, Number 4

by Lily Chin

This book has me at a bit of a standstill. I don't want to need it but, gallingly, I think I might.

Let me explain.

Lily Chin seems like an interesting character. She's quite keen to impart her knowledge to those of us so unfortunate as to not be able to take one of her 'popular', 'instant-sellout' tips and techniques classes. I raised an eyebrow at her assertion that many of the tips are not common knowledge, but "have become more popular, I'm sure, as a result of the classes that I have taught almost every month since 1994. Word gets around. Thus, some things may be familiar to you..."

That slightly patronising little gem is on the second page of text. The first page looks like this.

I have such a hate-on for this trend - outsize fonts in mid-page.

But then, just as I had defiantly decided there wouldn't be anything truly necessary in the book (I'm reactive, what can I say), she came out with two really useful bits of information. One was a little page on knitting with ribbon yarn, which has been the stuff of my nightmares for some time now. I've got a Clapotis in the works, using ribbon yarn, and it's frustrating me so much I'm afraid I'll go off in an apoplexy. Lily advises me to sew the yarn ends together with needle and thread...not to weave in the ends...and it's so obvious I can't believe I didn't see it before. She also advises me to set up my yarn ball on a knitting needle axis, so it behaves like toilet paper. Huge reduction in twisting.

The second useful thing was her explanation of combination knitting, and exactly WHY, when I knit stockinette using the continental method, my purl rows are almost always a little looser. It's a matter of yarn path, it turns out, and it's fixable. I'm going to try combination knitting in the new year and see if I can't retrain myself.

I haven't read the whole thing, and I'm sure that I'll find a lot more techniques to improve my knitting skills. I don't ever have to reread the first two pages, after all, so they won't be a long-term issue. I'm actually looking forward to reading the rest of it, and finding out what else I didn't know I didn't know.

Overall I like this book, and it will live on my shelf despite its off-putting, annoying-fonted first pages. I give Chin credit for the knowledge she has amassed, but, as a final note, I do take humorous issue with the following. I can think of so many adjectives to describe this piece of advice, including "incongruous", "laughable", "amateur", and "outrageous".

And to that an extreme "WTF?!"

It's not perfect, but it'll be useful. It's small - a good knitting-bag size. It comes from one of the most respected designers (and Vogue-appointed Master Knitters) in the textile world, and most knitters will need what's in this book, one way or another.

Lily Chin's Knitting Tips & Tricks gets:
Reread: Yep
Given to Others: Probably
Book plate: Why not.


A Note: Lily has also published "Crochet Tips & Tricks". If I were a crocheter, I would actually buy that book just on the strength of this one. Bound to be good stuff in there.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Look - My Friend's on YouTube

The hoops are steel, wrapped in tape.

Bit of trivia: the studios in the video are the ones I dance in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Earth to Table

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 10, Number 3

Earth to Table
by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann

Okay, let me give it to you straight. This book is

***amazing. ***

If you love food, or if you love the earth, or if you're concerned about health, or if you are curious about what makes a restaurant tick, or if you'd like a little glimpse into an organic farm, or if you like good, personable unpretentious writing.....or if you are buying for someone who is any of these things, you cannot go wrong with Earth to Table.

The concept is simple - how to eat in season, locally.

It would be easy enough to describe the philosophy and method of eating seasonally - there are convincing arguments ranging from your health to your tastebuds to your carbon footprint - but these authors have done more than that. They have plumbed the depths of growing your own produce, mixing your own compost, and foraging in ditches for ramps (wild leeks). In the process, reading this book, you feel galvanized by their knowledge and enthusiasm.

They have embraced the local, seasonal concept in their own restaurant (both are members of the Slow Food Movement), and have teamed up with an organic farm on which they actually grow their own wheat (Red Fife, a Canadian heritage strain), for the 70 loaves they bake at the restaurant daily.

I could go on, and on, and on about this beautiful book. But I did promise to make these pre-Christmas reviews shorter, so I'll just say:

- only tried one recipe so far (pizza dough), loved it
- so well-written and nicely photographed
- totally worth the cover price


Thursday, November 19, 2009

If On A Winter's Night...

This CD is a thing of delicate beauty. There are no synth-laden pop riffs or 'guest vocalists'...if you're looking for anything like The Police or the typical Sting offerings of his solo career, you'll be disappointed.

If you've heard "Songs From the Labyrinth" you'll have a better idea what to expect from "If On A Winters Night". Sting, in his maturity, seems lately to have been drawn to ancient music: consider also that this recording, like "Labyrinth", was released on Deutsche Grammaphon, a classical label.

The music itself is flawless. It has a keen sound quality - particularly on the pieces with stripped-down instrumentation - and the arrangements are careful.

If you are interested at all in Sting as a person, the liner notes will prove invaluable. There are six closely-printed pages written by Sting: musings on his agnosticism, his childhood memories of winter, the seasonal cycle as it affects humans. It's interesting and introspective.

I would classify this CD not as "Christmas", as I've seen it described, but as "solstice". It reminds me a little of the New Age/Pagan CDs that comprise my favourite winter listening.

I love If On A Winter's Night. It is full of lovely winter songs, beautifully interpreted by a first-class musician.

Listen Here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dread Hand, Eye

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 10, Number 2

Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffenegger

If you've read The Time Traveler's Wife, you already know this amazing author's penchant for the eerie. As 'eerie' goes, her new offering, Her Fearful Symmetry, doesn't disappoint.

Elspeth Noblin, the novel's most influential character, dies in the first couple of pages. She leaves her London flat, overlooking Highgate Cemetery, to her two American nieces: twins, as Elspeth herself was a twin.

The twins, Julia and Valentina, move to London with all their baggage and.....well, baggage. Their relationship - like that of their aunt and mother - is one of the defining forces of the novel. It moves the plot and determines the fate of the two girls, who at the beginning of the book are not so much sisters, as one person split between two bodies.

When the twins get to London, they find that though she is dead, their aunt has never really left her flat at all...

Haunting is a difficult plot point - it is so often written with a heavy hand, resulting in improbably corporeal spirits, or sensationalist plot lines high on spook-factor. Audrey Niffenegger handles it carefully, gently bringing the reader around. Her ghost is a nicely drawn blend of the humdrum and the mysterious.

The whole thing is very deftly written. Niffenegger managed to suspend my disbelief throughout the novel, and in fact (though I am loth to admit it) to smoothly trick me into liking somebody that I shouldn't have - no mean feat considering how many books I have read and dissected. At this stage in my reading career it takes a good bit of sleight of hand to get a villain past me...Audrey did it brilliantly.

Do read this book if you get a chance. It's quite different to The Time Traveler's Wife - less sexual for one thing (darn), and in a totally different style. There is a lot of good writing, clever plot points, and well-disguised metaphor.

HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Her Fearful Symmetry gets:

Reread? Definitely.
Given to Others? Yes.
Bookplate? Yes.


Friday, November 13, 2009

I like this woman a lot.

The Air Canada Flight Attendant, over the public address system, to the passengers on the Boeing 777 we took from Ontario:

"Please leave all wireless communication devices off until the captain has turned off the seat belt sign and we have arrived at our final destination. This is regardless of whether or not you think I can see you.

I can.

I can see you.

Put it away."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A sepulchre of heroes

Each has won a glorious grave - not that sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined. For the whole earth is the sepulchre of heroes. Monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land, but on far-off shores there is an abiding memorial that no pen or chisel has traced; it is graven not on stone or brass, but on the living hearts of humanity.

Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can be only for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Dear Valerie: Please invite me over.

Inebriate Mondays at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 10, Number 1
by Valerie Peterson
Oh my gosh, what a hilarious book.

The entire point of this handy little volume is to help you cope with the pressures of the festive season. How, you ask? Well, Valerie Peterson thinks the best way to get you into good spirits is to get good spirits into you. And she's got plenty of ideas for the tastiest and most efficient way to achieve this.

It's more than a bartending guide, though, it's a comic romp through winter, from Thanksgiving to Epiphany. There are loads of funny little sidebars, plenty of pictures that, frankly, could have come from the family album of almost anyone I know. Swap out one or two faces, and maybe the wallpaper in the background, and these photos could have been taken in 1968 in my grandmother's house. "Adults," Peterson says, "in the celebratory photos of yesteryear, looked like they were having a good time...what was the secret? I searched and searched and, after a whole hour on the Internet, I found the answer: liquor."

There's a "Mayflower Mulled Cider", whose introduction observes "That fateful gathering in 1621 wouldn't be remembered so fondly if Chief Massasoit and his ninety men showed up year after year, complaining to the pilgrims that the turkey was dry..." Then the "Turkey Tamer" notes that the holiday bird will be fine, "as long as the stressed-out cook remembers to brine. Herself, that is."

For Christmas there are scores of yummy sounding libations, including Scrooge and Cratchit's final-chapter bowl of Smoking Bishop, and the "Emergency Ginerator" for when your light display blows the entire powergrid and you are forced to "review the inconvenient truth of your kilowatt hours."

My favourite one, though is that immortal, controversial "Tom and Jerry". Remember the famous Tom and Jerry post and comment frenzy? Well, we were right - Peterson has you beating the egg white until very stiff, and beating the yolks with sugar and vanilla until thick, light, and creamy yellow. Then you beat in cinnamon, rum and brandy, and mix the whites and yolks back together. Also, you add hot milk, not hot water. Much better, I think.

This book is not only laugh-out-loud funny, it's completely unapologetic about its subject matter. I love that - I expected a certain amount of guilt, especially in these Puritanical times when having a drink to cope means you are suspect of substance abuse, and a candidate for intervention. There's no sign of that here - it's all simply good fun. The unspoken expectation is that you ought to already know about drinking responsibly. The few warnings given in the "Contraindications" section include pregnancy, driving, and maybe church services...other than that, have at 'er!

HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Peterson's Holiday Helper gets:

Reread? Yup!
Given to others? Absolutely!
Bookplate? Yes!


Monday, November 02, 2009

They're in here.

Spoiler Warning: this is a heavy review of an emotionally huge movie.

I went to a movie the other day. I had high hopes for it, and was certainly prepared to have a good time.

I didn't have a good time, though.

I got punched in the gut. Where The Wild Things Are put a whammy on me.

It got released on my birthday, and I thought we might take the kids to it after dinner. I checked parent previews and got the idea it wouldn't be appropriate - I asked a friend and she said this:
Where the Wild Things Are is a dark and disturbing movie. I wished I hadn't seen it...the movie should carry a warning label: for people with happy carefree perfect childhoods only...I am still disturbed, four days later.

I was interested. And I thought, I pretty much had a happy carefree childhood, I should be golden.


Because I am a human...because I was a child, and have come full-circle to parenthood, Wild Things was a sucker punch.

The Maurice Sendak book, which of course everyone has read, is a terse and symbolic story of a child's defiance, punishment, and capitulation. During his punishment (sent to his room), a jungle grows up around him and he sets sail across an ocean, in a private boat. He arrives at a strange land full of strange creatures: Wild Things. They threaten to eat him, but he tames them with magic, and they crown him king.

There are several pages, in the middle of the book, with no words on them. Max's adventure is barely narrated at all - and his emotions are only named in one tiny line - "Max was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all." Aside from that line, the reader is left to infer what she will about what's going on in Max's head.

The movie is, on the surface, significantly different from the book. (Which - okay, the book has, what, 8 pages? and the movie takes nearly two hours, so you'd expect some fleshing-out.) In reality, though, it is not different at all. Every event, every extra character, every change made by the writers, seems perfectly natural to the original text.

Max's journey to the place where the wild things are is, like in the book, a turning inward. The place where the wild things are is a manifestation of his internal landscape as, in fact, the wild things themselves are manifestations of Max, his family members, his habits, his fears, his longings. Their characters are not static - they keep shifting as power dynamics change, as Max's will first unites, then divides them. The wild things are often children - they submit to his kingship, relieved to have an authority figure again.

This theme surfaces again and again throughout the movie, as characters admit their need for "a king". They need guidance, they want someone to look after them and make everything all right. (It's significant that Max, in his real life, doesn't live with his father - the reason is never made clear. We don't know whether the father is dead, or just gone.)

For a while Max becomes that authority they need (while at the same time, one of the wild things has become Max's father figure), but soon the wild things discover, as Max once did, that nobody has enough power to make everything all right.

Parents and children, and the hurt they inflict on one another, is a huge theme in this movie. There is one scene that cut me right to the bone. Judith, a wild thing who has always been more or less skeptical about this upstart king, has a jeering match with Max. No words are said, but she and Max just mock and roar more and more loudly at each other, him imitating her with a look of contempt on his face. She is in a trench, looking up at him (the only way he would be taller than she is), and after she screams at him for the last time she cries out, before he has a chance to answer her, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT BACK TO ME!"

He stops, taken aback.

"YOU CAN'T BE UPSET!" she yells. "We can be upset but you can't get upset! You're the king! If we say 'I'll eat you up', you have to say [gently] 'oh no! what'll I do! don't eat me!'"

Max stares at her. You can see the realisation of what he's done - the same thing that has been done to him - on his face. Then he turns around and walks away.

It is gut-wrenching.

I am a parent who has anger problems. Thank God I am not a hitter, but sometimes things escalate. I push, they push back, and then - well, I am ashamed to say that I, too, have imitated my daughter's words or voice, which she has used to me out of hurt and impotent anger. I have turned it around on her and have wounded her, deliberately, by using my position of power to subdue her, demean her.

It seemed harmless at the time. It seemed like a way to show her how it made me feel when she said that - how it felt to have someone talk to you that way. But what she needed from me...what she always needs from for me to be the parent, the adult, the mother - the one in control. It's a paradox, because she's trying to hurt me...but she doesn't want to succeed.

When I saw Max and Judith behaving like parent and child, I sobbed. I felt such a conviction of guilt for the few - thankfully - times in our lives when I have done this to my own child. I had heard those exact words from her. "You can't get upset! You shouldn't imitate me!" And once, heartbreakingly, "I'm just a child Mummy!" Watching this movie, I remembered what I had forgotten. I knew it as a child, knew it right at the core of my soul. I remembered that fear I felt when I pushed her, hoping against hope that she would react with love and not anger. That she would reach out instead of lashing out.

It's not too much to say that Where the Wild Things Are changed my life. It absolutely wounded me. It reached out of the screen, tore me out of my Now, and shoved me back into my Then. It reminded me what it was like to be powerless, to trust out of necessity. It reminded me what it was like to burn with rage and helplessness, to lash out in pain, needing to smash and destroy. And it reminded me what it was like to want, so badly, to be treated with gentleness, to be treasured above all else - even just to be given the gift of my mother's gaze. Without anger, without distraction.

If you had told me a week ago that a movie could make me feel this way, could double me over in pain, make me run home to my children, make me change the way I am with them, I'd have laughed out loud. A movie, though, is just a vehicle for a voice. The message can be a teeny little folded up thing that flies inside you disguised as laughter, disguised as fantasy, imagination, nonsense.....and then when you've lowered your defenses, taken it in and given it a place to Be, it unfolds itself. You look at it differently. It's a part of you. You understand what you've really been seeing.

That moment of comprehension can be devastating.

I don't know whether you, in particular, should go see it, or not. I will say that it's the best movie I've seen in probably a decade. I'll also say that I'm buying the soundtrack, and I'm buying the DVD, and then the special edition DVD, and then the ten-year anniversary director's cut DVD box set, and get the idea.

A lot of people don't like this movie. It's painful - no doubt about it. And a lot of people probably don't understand this movie - you should have heard some of the people in the theatre. They were mystified, and slightly resentful. "That wasn't in the book!" But, for my part, I came away changed - and for the better. As I said to my sister, "Run, don't walk."

Photo from IMdb, used totally without the permission of WarnerBros.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reinventing the wheel.

My cousin came to my door the other day with her favourite sweater in hand. "I was at a client's," she said, "and her cat chewed a hole in it."

She was very specific - she wasn't asking me to fix it, she was asking me to show her how to fix it, but...this is a beginning knitter, never darned a stitch in her life, talking to me about a hole in her sweater. Just the thought of explaining exactly how to do it made me tired. I did try, but after a few minutes I said "Y'know what? leave it with me."

I pulled it out this afternoon and examined it, reflecting with a frown that I don't think I have anything remotely like this yarn in the stash...I'm certainly not going to use contrasting yarn...what to do, what to do.

Wait a second - do I have roving in this colour? I'm pretty sure I do.
So now I can say I've drafted, spindle-spun, and plied a .7 meter long piece of Twist of Fate top in order to fix a cardigan bearing this tag:
(Made in China. By Joe. 70% acrylic, 20% wool, 5% mohair, 5% alpaca. At least they got 30% of it right.)

That's me: needlessly complicating things for over 30 years. A fine tradition of pointless excellence.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Braids, buns.

I finally tried the Latvian braid from the Lizbeth Upitis book…it turned out pretty well.


And doesn’t my breakfast look good?


Friday, October 16, 2009

18 Plus 18

Today is International Day of Shan. Today I am thirty-six.

I am going to have a great day. Schedule:

1030 - Yarn sale at the LYS with my friend. I have a sweater bag of Jo Sharp Silk Road DK (50% off) in my cross hairs.
1130 - Coffee (with chance of lunchy stuff), with said friend and my children.
1300-1600 - Tea party/knitting frenzy with Mum.
1730 - OUT for dinner! Amazing! I plan on jasmine rice with coconut madras. I will wear my new vest. Knitting pics later when the sun returns (April-May).
1900 - Home for cake. CAKE, BY ALL THAT IS HOLY. I was going to make one, as usual, but Mr HSB walked in while I was planning, and said "I can buy you a cake, you know."

Yes, thank you, I will take the chocolate mousse.


* Time passes slowly until you're about 27. Then one day you make another pot of coffee, pay a bill, watch a little TV, and when you check the clock you're turning 36.
* When you're 36, stuff that happened 18 years ago is surprisingly vivid.
* And it's weird to clearly remember events of three decades ago. One of these days (like, tomorrow) I'll be able to remember events of six decades ago. I'm betting it'll be weird then, too.
* I used to assume that when I was in my thirties I'd have it all together. I don't, though. You won't either. (Link is to a sound clip, language warning.)
* Gravity and evaporation are not your friends. Hydrate, people, hydrate.

Enjoy my birthday, peoples! Maybe there's a pint somewhere with your name on it and you can heft it in my honour.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Three Day Road

I have this theory that a book cannot be published by Penguin and be bad. Some would disagree – I mentioned my theory to an older relative recently and he sighed about how nice it must be to be so naive, to have intact illusions.

And he’s quite right…it is nice. Someday I might meet a bad Penguin, but that day hasn’t come yet, and in the meantime I am basking in the bliss of ignorance.

I spent the last three days reading a most rewarding Penguin. Three Day Road is a story of two Cree boys (bush Cree, they clarify, not plains Cree) who join up to fight with the Canadians in World War I. The book is written as a retrospective – again, my favourite structure. I love it when you know the end, but you have to read the book to find out what led to it: how the characters got to their destinations.

Niska, Xavier’s aunt, is an Ojibwe-Cree woman living alone, and off the land. In 1919 she receives word that Xavier, who she raised from childhood and who is her only surviving relative, is returning from France. She goes to the city to meet the train. On the three-day canoe journey home, with Xavier broken in mind and body, they unfold their stories to each other.

There aren’t many characters in Three Day Road…or, more accurately, the three central figures are so intense, so absorbing, that the other people seem washed out by comparison. Xavier, Elijah, and Niska, their internal conflicts, their memories, and their actions, dominate the emotional landscape. Boyden has drawn them with impressive skill, using their voices carefully and consistently.

Three Day Road is a glorious novel. There is a lot of pain in its pages, but the stories of trench warfare and the slow erosion of sanity and dignity are not what haunt my memory most clearly. What survives in my mind are images of the Northern Ontario forest, the glimpses into the traditional ways of the Cree, and, most important of all, the characters’ internal beauty.

Three Day Road was passed to me from my uncle, and normally in situations like this I read the book and then pass it on to someone else in turn. This book, though, isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting a bookplate, and I’m already planning a re-read in the New Year.

Thanks Joe and Dave, for such a wonderful Penguin.

HSB Highly-Specialised Book Rating System

Three Day Road gets:

Reread: Yes
Bookplate: Yes
Given to Others: Yes


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Watch the birdie, now! Watch the birdie!

It’s come to my attention that at least one of you thinks I ought to get busy, do some kind of song and dance, put up a post, whatever. But the spirit hasn’t moved, and in fact I’m in an utterly foul and wretched mood at the moment, so the best I can do is to tell you a joke.

Once upon a time, there was an offer of the Royal Navy. Captain Bravado showed no fear before his enemies, even in the heat and chaos of battle, and had earned the respect and admiration of the crew for his unflinching courage in the face of danger. One day the man in the crow’s nest spotted a pirate ship approaching, and the crew became frantic as the lookout screamed his warning. Captain Bravado bellowed, “Bring me my red shirt!” The first mate quickly handed the Captain his red shirt and, while wearing the brightly coloured garment, the Captain led his crew into battle, defeating the swarthy pirates.

That evening, all the men sat around on deck recounting their day of triumph. One of them asked the Captain, “Sir, why did you call for your red shirt before the battle?”

The Captain replied, “If I were to be wounded in the attack, the shirt would not show my blood. You men would continue to fight, unafraid.”  And all the men marvelled at the courage of their indomitable leader.

As dawn came the next morning, the lookout spotted not one, not two, but seven pirate ships approaching! The crew stared, trusting and expectant, at the Captain, waiting for his usual orders. Captain Bravado gazed with steely eyes upon the motley armada arrayed against his ship, and, without a sign of fear, turned and shouted:

“Bring me my brown pants.”

Friday, October 02, 2009

The dream world of millions.

Yann Martel has sent the Prime Minister a Harlequin romance novel….I love it.

(The sending, not the novel.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hither, Yon.

Well, as Sam Gamgee said, I’m back.

For the last 16 days I was in the untractable wilderness of Southern Ontario – viewing corn farmers in their native habitat.

Also the more common sprawlus urbanissimus.

We had some serious fun in Ontario, mostly staying between London and Toronto, with a one-day frolic to Niagara Falls. My kind father-in-law rented us a car for us to use, and we put 2,000 kilometers on it! Yeah!

We are museum people, so we did quite a lot of that. The Royal Ontario Museum:

Biodiversity (very interactive, kids loved the foxes’ tunnel system)


Dinosaurs (“thank you Mummy, but I have seen quite enough bones”):


and a King Cobra (“Look scared baby!”)


We loved the “Stairway of Marvels” or whatever they’re calling it – spent quite a bit of time at the toy soldiers:


and the ROM had the Dead Sea Scrolls while we were there, which was cool if you’re a religious person but otherwise, you can probably give it a miss. Especially if you have young children, because look what will happen to them by the end.


We spent a couple of days in St Jacob’s, which is amazing and lovely, but has gotten a little commercial since I was last there 13 years ago. The farmers’ market is worth going to, on Thursdays and Saturdays, when the Mennonite farmers bring their quilts, jam, bread, sausages, and all manner of good things to sell. Here is the parking lot:


And while in St Jacob’s we visited the Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario – yeah baby!


I like this picture, a cross-section of a sugar bush maple, taps clearly visible.


We saw the Toronto Zoo, where we sat in the underwater viewing area while the polar bears were being fed:


…and the kids got to ride a camel.


The London Children’s Museum was a big hit, especially the “Street Where I Live” exhibit, where kids could put on real firefighter’s gear, carry a Canada Post mailbag, and get a glimpse of the possible drudgery coming their way…if you don’t study hard, kids.


And we learned about one of Canada’s heroes…the indomitable Laura Secord, venerated here not far from Brock’s Monument.


There are dozens more pictures, but I’ll spare you.

I did a bunch of knitting while I was there, but can’t show you any of it as it’s all for Christmas (three months from yesterday, if you’re wondering).

How have YOU been?

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I’ve just been on Facebook checking on my best friend. I lose track of her because she’s awesome and has better things to do than stay in her house wiping counters and noses and butts and obsessing about wool all day long.

My friend is a wilderness adventure kayak guide. If you’ve been to Antarctica to spend $10,000 on a weekend of camping on a polar ice cap and getting close to Emperor penguins and minke whales, you might have met her. She’d have been the tall blonde amazon who knows everything and can save your life any number of ways.

I’m sure a lot of people have friends like her (well, nobody’s LIKE her), who they met and had adventures with, back in the day. I guess you could say that much of my connection with her is a subconscious desire to be what I was, when we first met.

We were on the UVic women’s rowing team together…though she rowed in a different eight than I did. We used to eat huge amounts of food, laugh until my neighbours complained, and fall asleep while watching movies late at night. We had to get up at 4.45 to get to the boathouse by 5.30, but it didn’t matter because we were amazingly strong and hot and invincible.

Now, I’m tired and harried, stretch marked, and I have quite a bit of grey in my hair.

Whereas my friend, may she live forever (and if anyone could, she would), is this woman.


And also this one


Conquering Greenland, if you’re wondering.

Jealous – sure. Self-pitying – yeah, okay. Overwhelmed with gratitude and love, just that she’s still in my life – absolutely.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

She remembers 1967 quite well, thank you.

Mum and I took the kids to a restaurant today for a late lunch. We were drinking our Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre and the girls were colouring their placemats, when “I’m a Believer” came on the radio.

“Hey!” Charlotte said, “This song’s from Shrek!”

“Actually, it’s an old song, babe,” I said, “by a band called ‘The Monkees’…or, am I wrong, was it the Beatles, Mum?”

“Nope, the Monkees.”

Charlotte looked skeptical. “’The Monkees’? ‘The Beatles’? Why would anyone name their bands after monkeys and beetles?”

There was a pause as my mum swirled her red wine, then said, dry and worldly-wise, “You had to be there, kid.”

It was perfect. I laughed my head off.

Poor Charlotte. Wait til she sees my Yard Birds album.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Time’s a-wastin’.

Tomorrow is Charlotte’s 8th birthday extravaganza. She has planned an enormous Build-a-Bear party for basically everyone she knows, except the neighbour girl who recently (oh, who am I kidding, ‘continuously’) bossed her around.

And that’s what is known as ‘comeuppance'. NO CAKE FOR YOU, HA.

At this very moment, party being tomorrow, I should be cleaning something, or baking something. Instead, I’m posting about a couple of books I keep meaning to talk about: “Socks from the Toe Up” and “Mother Daughter Knits”.


“Socks” is the baby of Wendy Johnson, who writes Wendy Knits. This book has got some cool stuff, plus lots of tips for basic toe-up sock construction. The patterns are nice. (Weirdly, though, many of them don’t continue all the way around the back of the leg – the patterning is just on the front.) My favourite so far are the Labyrinth socks (Ravelry link) but I haven’t cast them on yet…just need the perfect yarn.

This is a great book if you’re a sock knitter in general, and especially if you usually knit them top-down and are wondering about a switch. Wendy has included instructions for a good heel-flap imitation, too, so you won’t be limited to short-row heels.

Socks from the Toe Up gets:



Mother-Daughter Knits” is from Sally Melville and her daughter Caddy Melville-Ledbetter. Sally is apparently a friend of my mother-in-law, and I think I might try to wangle some kind of introduction – based on this book, I would LOVE her. (And her daughter, too.)

There is a lot of good stuff in this book. I’m impressed with the sections on fitting body shapes – they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to explain the theory and application of knit design, including changing parts of the pattern to suit your figure, and what to wear WITH your chosen sweater shape. I like that – so often, as they say in the book, a nice piece is ruined by an off bit of styling.

I love the Camelot Coat, designed by Sally. I also like Caddy’s Minidress, although that is not my usual style (cap sleeves, argh!) – but the back is marvellous.

I see a lot of pattern books and mostly they are the same old, same old, but this one really appeals. There is more good information than I expected, the sizing range is generous, and the designs are pretty. Check out “Mother-Daughter Knits” if you get a chance.

Mother-Daughter Knits gets:



And now I really must go plan the cake. Charlotte wants layers of both vanilla AND chocolate, plus real buttercream. I believe this to be in honour of the “Buttercream Cub” from Build-a-Bear.

Which, by the way: cute, but what a racket they’re pulling. They are masters of the up-sell – and now they’ve got my daughters trying to pull out their own teeth in order to get money to spend at the Build-a-Bear Workshop.

Literally, they are trying to pull out their own teeth. Emily actually succeeded in getting one out, last night, but she’s in the lucky position of having at least three teeth that are currently in varying degrees of looseness, and are therefore potentially extractable for the Cause. Charlotte doesn’t have any loose teeth at the moment, but the way she’s pushing them around, she soon will.

Off to whip some butter. The cake has to be especially soft and creamy, so my children will be able to eat it with their bare gums.

Friday, August 21, 2009


It's busy. This is how I have felt lately:

Sunday, August 09, 2009

No Foolin’.

Hey, lady:

You are wandering around the grocery store with one ear glued to a cell phone, your iPod in your other hand, diamonds dripping off you, shooting verbal abuse at your two children between the inane, slanderous conversation you are having with your phone, and loading your cart with chips, diet mixers, Red Bull and Lean Cuisine.

I followed you around the aisles for forty minutes, getting my own jobs done, and I think I have your measure.

I do not believe you are a yogini studying balance and centredness, no matter how many lululemon logos you are sporting – I counted four. Five if I include the bag. You can wrap yoga wear around your soft, dimpled, privileged arse every day of your clueless life, if you like. When I look at you, I see Kmart clearance.

Peace out.


Friday, August 07, 2009


I had a bad day today. But I am making a pot of soup for supper: turkey vegetable noodle, a consolation. Biscuits will happen later, and these two things together are almost certainly going to make the world right again.

I would like to have had some homemade bread with it, but maybe that will be for tomorrow. There’ll be leftover soup, of course, and it’s nice to know lunch is taken care of. I do have to remember to bash up the dough tonight, though.

I was poking through my spice cupboard looking for little glass jars of dried whatnot for the soup, when I realised that back in May, I invested in some 2” pots of various things…

what need have I of dried herbs in July? Forethought provides.

Lovage, winter savoury, English thyme, rosemary, purple sage.

Thanks Mum for planting the bush beans.



I keep forgetting to tell you about an absolutely charming series I discovered: they are by Shire Books. Wonderfully no-nonsense books of information about quite specific subjects, they are replete with history and facts, and amazingly concise. I have “Baking and Bakeries”and “Spinning and Spinning Wheels”, but I long to get “The Woollen Industry”, “Flax and Linen”, “Markets and Marketplaces of Britain”, “Evacuees of the Second World War”……oh, just all of them. I’m trying to scheme how I could get the government to pay for them, seeing as they would be for school.

Leadbetter Spinning and Spinning Wheels, by Eliza Leadbetter: from why wool must be spun, to how to work a spindle, to how to comb flax, to what a niddy-noddy is for.

Baking and Bakeries, by H G Muller: from Pompeii to Pillsbury, a fascinating look at the staff of life. This book is so cool – did you know that, in the 1830s, the main cause of lead poisoning was bread baked in an oven fired with old door and window frames painted with white lead paint? Or that the bread of the early 19th century might contain large amounts of plaster of Paris, white clay, alum, copper sulphate and bone dust?

Anyway, if you get a chance to take a look at this line, do pick it up. I think they’ve just released “Beach Huts and Bathing Machines” and “The Slave Trade”.

Finding out is so fun.

Friday, July 31, 2009


I got my Rauma books from Denise’s Needleworks last week, and right away decided what to knit first:Damestrompe

Yesterday I went to a LYS’ anniversary sale, and found black and white Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine. The pattern calls for a tension of 34-35 stitches over 4 inches in pattern, on a 2mm needle.

I swatched, and…want to see what 12 stitches to the inch looks like?



So I’m going up a few needle sizes – I’ll probably settle somewhere around a 2.75 or 3mm needle. I don’t think the yarn would work well on anything bigger. I might have to change yarns, but I devoutly hope not.

Also bought a Rowan knitting bag (my first ever REAL knitting bag) at the sale – half price at $41.


The inside is gratifyingly large – I could easily put a complete, full-sized sweater project in here, plus a couple of pairs of socks and some carding. Score!


Lastly, my total output on the Shetland so far…


I’m pleased with my progress, though I wish I had spun the white a bit more consistently. I’m not sure what I did differently – I think one of the colours has more twist in the single than the other colour, but I am not totally sure which. I like the feel of the grey much better than the white – the white’s a bit ropy and the plies aren’t hugging together as well as I’d like them to. Maybe I should have added more twist while plying?