Friday, November 12

Cum dilatasti cor meum

This is a long, personal entry that has the words "feelings" and "emotions" in it, as well as using several bad analogies, and it does not end happily (though it does end hopefully). Consider yourself warned.

Sometimes I think that “growing up” is a very hazy experience; I remember when learning to ride a bike my balance was always skewed, and now I feel like the physical environment that seemed to shift when I was moving is just like any true insight I ever had about myself (wavers, grows unsteady, becomes meaningless, then rights itself so suddenly that I cannot grasp it). Weird way to describe it, but I can only shrug at my way of expressing myself. Since I stopped reading so voraciously I have lost some of my ability to express anything gracefully (if I ever had it in the first place; now that I have friends who know how to use commas properly I doubt myself even more!).

I have come to the conclusion that I am not so gifted with this whole “real life” thing, too. Yes, I had another interview with no call back. It is a little disheartening but it is nice to know that the wall I’ve been banging my head on for so long is indeed still there. God is apparently not so keen on my job hunting efforts. And it is true that I am useful where I am. But, I say in prayer, through much rambling and phrasing, I would like to know my future, and to see things properly so that I can control them so that they will be safe. How much of me, I ask you, is controlled by that fear?! What kind of a person am I becoming if I let fear conquer my trust in God? Soon he’ll bring me justice--my faith, tho timid, remains.

I remember a time when I sat in my bedroom and felt within me the desire to pray to God to let me die. I wanted it so very much, but I saw myself wanting it and knew that it was wrong to pray for that kind of death, so I sat in my cold and silent room, with God, and I did not ask Him. But I know he knew what I wanted and why I was silent. I felt so brittle and numb... but I knew that that moment would be a defining one for me. George MacDonald’s ‘The Princess and the Goblin’ has a perfect image of this in the fire opal ring that the princess’ great big grandmother gave her--attached to it was a fine string, spun of cobwebs, that if she only followed it would lead her to safety. I have spun cobweb-weight yarn. I know its properties, and what it is like to be working in the darkness with every power of sight and touch focused on following that thin strand to its end. (I probably shouldn’t spin by candlelight no matter how romantic it is, but sometimes there is no other remedy for a troubling day.) It was the same feeling as spinning cobweb-yarn; that thin and listening awareness, a resolute trust, a given promise (or plighted troth, since we are romantics here). That faith and trust in God is a thing in itself, apart from my self and my desires--it exists in me most clearly when there is nothing to distract me but the darkness.

So this whole job thing I’m not sweating too much. I would like to have the approval of the people around me and to be financially independent, but I don’t always get what I want. And I did not do well on my own. And the work I do here is useful to His purposes. Trying to keep my chin up and not just barrel on through with my head down is somewhat of a challenge. This carpe diem is not the way I expected to understand the concept.

In other news, I’ve been reading the books of history in the Old Testament; the bits after the sack of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. It makes me grieve every single day. The story of the heartbreak of God is utterly gut-wrenching. I am reminded, too, that though my feelings and emotions are subjective and I am not an all-knowing, all-powerful creator, they are the shadow of something very real and very true--God has emotions like mine. Sometimes I am ashamed that I can too clearly imagine Christ’s bloody suffering on the cross but really have to focus, to sift through images in my head so that I can see him disappointed and hurt.

And just the other day I was knitting a baby sweater. I like to imagine the people I make things for wearing the things I make, so it was a shock to me that I felt a kind of dull unhappiness when I realized the baby I was making the sweater for is not my child. I don’t usually have those feelings. It was extremely unnerving, and I was in a bad mood the rest of the day. What on earth is going on in my brain!?

Back to spinning by candlelight. If I can find my cup of tea in the dimness at my bench, the world will look brighter in the morning.

Wednesday, October 20

According to "Do Not Destroy".

This first picture of my knitting on the left (the cobweb of dusty alpaca in the back) and my best friend's is the purple cardigan piece. Hers is the blue cup and mine is the white. She is my dear friend since childhood, and now we live in the same country!

God is very good to me.

And that is what I want to remember about the time in between my last entry and this one. In other news; I was in a serious car accident, have had several emotionally dramatic things happen in my family that have kept me on the phone for an hour per night (on average) for several weeks, have learned two or three new skills to help me in my household work, have been reintroduced to my sign language skills rather forcibly, helped a friend move, and catalogued a boatload of library books for our church library. It means I am tired and struggle not to be cranky.

Knitting & Spinning: Yarns, Ribbons, & Rosettes
I won two blue ribbons and one red at the county fair; one of the blue ones and a purple rosette for Best-In-Show for the scarf in this picture. And I got all blues at our state fair:)

Two of the entries were yarn--a fine undyed laceweight merino (2 ply), and one wet-spun linen that made my fingers all pruny every time I spun for more than half an hour. I gather not many folks spin linen around her so that might account for the wonder of it.

The lace scarf is one from my own merino laceweight; also 2 ply, but different from the yarn I entered as a skein. It is an Estonian motif after the lily-of-the-valley, designed by Nancy Bush. Mrs. Bush is an historian extraordinaire whose second home (in the style of Gertrude Stein and Paris) is Estonia.

My parents are farm kids but they raised me and my sisters as city/island/extraterrestrial kids, so we never got the experience of entering things in fairs or being in 4H or anything. Their families back home will be pleased to see my ribbons in our Christmas missive.

Cotton is the other fiber I've been spinning--I won some at the MS&WF and haven't been able to find a better way to process it than spinning straight from the boll, which is what my spinning folk told me to do in the first place.

My handspun has been going to good use--I made a pair of armwarmers for my mother for Christmas and a headwrap for me to keep my hair up and away from my face when I'm working--this last is one of my few head-coverings that my sister claims does not "make [me] look homeless". Pics forthcoming if I can find decent ones.

And I knitted my first sweater:) It is delightful! I am surprised it worked out, and surprised at how easy it was. And my knitting group is very supportive and helpful. I love them and how positive and knowledgeable they are. It is good to surround oneself with such good people. And warm sweaters... I knitted it out of cheapish wool so it is already pilling pretty badly but it fits me well and is incredibly warm, and nobody noticed at my knitting group that I was wearing a handknit garment until I told them! Since it is a game between us to guess about handknits, I believe this means I win.

Cooking, etc.: Canning and Preserving
I decided ages ago that I wanted to learn how to can and preserve fruits and vegetables, and now I have begun. My canned tomatoes (several dozen jars, due to a miscommunication at the farmer's market) turned out well as a beginner's project. I was a little ambitious and tried not only a following project of blueberry-lime conserve (very good!) but also tomato jam (a childhood favorite of my mother) and serendipitously one of my shoppers found a lot of stew meat on sale, so I canned that too and that made about a dozen jars. Soon I shall continue on to the autumnal delights of apple sauce, apple butter and pumpkin pickles. This year I'm going to make more apple sauce than I did before. And the house will smell delicious.

I thought a picture of Mambrino was a bit necessary--I love this bowl for mixing and raising bread dough, 'frisaging' pastry dough (much better than plastic, metal, or glass because of the texture), serving salads or bread... and all the other uses in the kitchen that bowls get. Because it is handmade, the surfaces aren't perfectly smooth symmetrical, and I find that this quality of all of his to be practical and useful. I love using Mambrino with King Arthur Flour's old-fashioned dough whisk; I get the perfect amount of control over quickbread/muffin and cake batters.

Thursday, July 29

Gretre luf hath ne man than thys: that he maketh cioccolat muffyns ond doth not ete them alle but leveth som for hys frendes.

Sometimes I am absolutely delighted by my work. No matter that my life choices have been completely unorthodox (and yet somehow traditional?) and my future so uncertain as to test my faith! I am learning to wait on the Lord and live in the moment. This moment specifically being the one in which I made chocolate muffins in the middle of the night.

Anybody who has had an even semi-fulfilled childhood knows the happiness of licking the spoon/bowl of the batter of something delicious, like cookies or cake or pudding. But did you know that this joy is just as present when you are an adult? I generally do not go in for this sort of thing because although I believe you shouldn't trust a skinny cook, you also should beware the fat ones. So I give the spoons and bowls away to people who appreciate them. It was particularly nice tonight because I got to give a large spoonful away to a young woman all curled up in bed with a book and a cat and lots of pillows ("I want to CRY right now there is so much chocolate in this!"), and the new young man upstairs who was on the phone and playing clips of old Batman shows on YouTube ("Is that chocolate? I CAN PUT MY MOUTH ON THAT?!!?").

I dunno. I guess happy domesticity + chocolate = gets me every time.

Friday, July 16

What it means to be faithful

I’m not going to go on an expository ramble on what it means to be faithful, not today. No, this is pretty much definitely a rant.


It always bothered me that faithfulness was usually defined by its testing, trials, and breakages. I hope most people are familiar with the story of the prodigal son and his brother, and everyone knows at least one couple (or has seen a good dozen TV shows or films about) being broken because of infidelity or describing what it is like to come out of a tragic relational labyrinth, rise above it, and still be able to love wholeheartedly. It seemed to me as a girl that the only way to know whether someone was faithful was to see them be unfaithful (and this doesn’t apply just to romance; I mean the fathers who promise to spend time with their kids, the friends who promise they’ll be there for you, the honorable word of businessmen, etc.).


A story: I was young to be in college and my ideals then were less defined and less weathered than they are now, when I was in a literature class and we were required to read Kate Chopin’s short story ‘The Storm’. In it, a storm separates a woman at her house from her husband, who is nearby at a mercantile or shop. While he is away, the woman’s lover arrives at the house, makes passionate love to her and then leaves when the storm is over. The storm brings life to the land around them exactly, as the author points out, the way that the infidelity of the wife brought a renewed love and affection for her husband. Wait--what... ? What kind of a world is this? My instructor read the sexually explicit parts with bliss and enthusiasm, approving of the infidelity and sneering at self-sacrifice.


It occurred to me at this point that you can break a thing irrevocably, just to find out what it is. And suddenly I saw it happening everywhere, and I became very angry, very afraid, and very protective of those I loved. There are certain things that should never be done. I’m still very loyal (dogged, stubborn, set, clench-jawed) to my friends and family about that sort of thing, so that the conversation which prompted this entry really actually made my blood boil. Or just simmer a little in a very uncomfortable way.


My itch: the faithful few are taken for granted while prodigals are glorified. I don’t mean that I wish people would either stay or leave the faith in a very black and white way. I do rejoice at the return of someone who has gone astray. But prodigals and whores who make one step in the right direction are in the minds of many more saintly than those who actually make good choices on a consistent basis. As if it is somehow easy for good people to be good?! To refrain from evil is an excellent goal, and also repentance when we do commit evil. But let us not sin so that grace may abound. And let us encourage one another so that we do not lose heart or our resolve.


Maybe I am just tired. I don’t want fame or undue happiness or an official day dedicated to the faithful, but I want the truth to be told, and I want justice and I want grace. “And I want it now,” says a small, echoey, nasal voice in the back of my head.


I really want things to be right. For everybody. Right now. Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon.

Tuesday, June 22

Lavender & Chamomile

I am enjoying, for the first time in a good dozen years, having a bit of garden of my own. My gardens are usually herb gardens because other people in my family like vegetable gardening more, and because I am more interested in herbs and their histories and possible uses. Besides, less pesty creatures and weeds tend to get around in herb gardens than in vegetable gardens. My corner is full of herbs of different sorts, some of which I haven't had time to use yet and
some of which have not yet taken off like I wish they would (you can't have everything). For the present, though, the blooming lavender and chamomile are giving me enough to do on my weekends.

These are my four lavender plants (two English and two French). We just planted them in late summer of last year and they have been remarkably happy in their partially sunny spot. The Wagnerian mutant on the left of the photo is lemon balm.

I use a cheap dish tub to harvest the plant and to place below them on their drying rack so that whatever bits do fall off won't make a mess on my workspace. This is the same one I use to wash my yarn and set the twist in it. Usually there are two blooming seasons (or at least I think so) and this is the first one. This is the third weekend I've come out to pick lavender; because I have such a nice setup with a dehumidifier already in the room (one of the ones used for air than for food) and a nice, dark, cool place (basement is always cold) my handfuls of lavender tend to dry in about a week so I can just take the flowers off the dry stuff and hang the new stuff and call it a day. I spend maybe two very lazy hours playing with my garden per week. It is a nice break from housework.


The chamomile is quicker to do because there is less of it and the plant as a whole is more compact. This variety is called German chamomile, which is the milder version as opposed to Roman chamomile. Most American home gardens will probably have German chamomile. It smells like apples and makes a sweet, calming tea. You make it when people feel ill or unhappy or sad or angry or frustrated or crampy or colicky. It soothes but does not solve. More often than not it is what is wanted, anyway. I use the trays from an old food dehumidifier without the heating element for the chamomile, and am more careful since the oils are more delicate and they'll be more likely used as tea rather than in a pillow or sachet.

These are the cats, who call what they are doing "helping".

Then the lavender and chamomile both end up at my workspace in old McCann's Steel-Cut Oatmeal cans with ziploc bags inside them, until I want to use them in one of the various things they are good for. I like my desk, down here. It is where I keep my knitting needles.

Monday, June 7

My first crop of lavender is almost ready to harvest.

SUCCESS
Yesterday a roomie came home from work early because a client cancelled, but it was a good thing because said roomie was not feeling well. And then the man of the house came home after a long work day and he usually needs a few minutes and some caffeine before he finds work to do on his next academic degree or major DIY project. With frozen cookie dough popped in the oven and a fortuitous accident of turning on the video game console and signing in all the players for a quick game, it was only a few minutes before the house smelled of chocolate and peanut butter and they were happily slaughtering each other on the TV screen.

The best part was when they put up the controllers and refilled their coffee mugs and said things like “I needed that!” and “It was so nice to relax for a few minutes”, and even “Those cookies are magic” (this last mostly followed by the discreet theft of handfuls of cookies). And then they were able to comfortably transition from work to home, and I went back to whatever work I had been doing before. These are the moments--these in-between moments--when my job is very valuable to family morale (sounds funny to hear, but if you don’t recognize the truth in what I’m saying you may as well give up on life now).

Knitting & Spinning
Katheryn and I have spent most of our time indoors recently because of the humid-to-rainy weather. We even had a huge thunderstorm the other day, and my cat took several hours to forgive me for it. And besides, most of my time I have spent plying yarn I’ve already spun because my stash is starting to be less goal-oriented and I can’t have that.

I’ve started a sort of rhythm where I spin (fleece to single thread) and ply (spinning two single threads together) during the week and then wash and set the yarn on the weekend, laying it out on our lawn chairs so that the sun dries it (or at least drip-dries it if it is super-bulky, so that I finish drying it inside at my workbench on a drying rack).

My knitting projects are going spectacularly well; I have a pair of socks knitted up the toes and an Estonian lace scarf half-finished (with a few mistakes, but it is my first lace scarf of significant laciness!). The socks are part of my house-knitting and the lace scarf is for my own edification; I will probably give it to my aunt who is tall and willowy and appreciates handspun lace. Unfortunately I have one pair of arm-warmers for my mother (house-knitting) I am going to have to unravel, ply, and re-knit. Shouldn’t take too long, though. I have another project in the planning stages which will have an entire blog entry to itself once I get the pictures taken.

Cooking
Tonight I am baking a meat loaf (with home-made chili relish we canned last year), a sweet potato pie (with home-made pie crust of deliciousness), peach cobbler (fruit from a local farm stand), and either steamed green beans or buttered peas. I will also be baking whole wheat bread for dinner. And a batch of cookies with chocolate in them to celebrate a homecoming.

Pies have been the food of choice lately; Sunday roast leftovers with extra gravy (a family favorite), apples that looked a little too inviting and coincided with a new jar of cinnamon, and summer icebox things with vanilla whipped cream. Our guests are duly impressed and my family is very proud and acts like they have this stuff all the time (who are we kidding? they do!), which is cute to watch and makes me happy.

Rant
Generally speaking, I love my job and it doesn’t really matter what people say about it. I don’t need to justify myself and am stubborn enough to not be persuaded by the ignorant. However, it is a thorn in my side, an un-scratchable itch on my back, an irritating speck in my eye when people (mostly women) think they know how to do my job and act surprised when my schedule is not free to spend socializing at their convenience. (NB: This rant completely ignores the fact that I don’t believe in socializing for the sake of socializing and would in all seriousness be happier mopping floors than faking a smile.) HOWEVER. People are important. Stupid “love everybody” rule. I am going to have to talk to God about this.

Monday, May 24

She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with double-knit.

Spinning and Knitting
Lately, I have been taking stock of my yarn stash and getting a good feel for what it will all grow up to be. I am one of those people who like to plan ahead, more because I can do so in my leisure activities but not very much in my job (homemaking tends to run around everyone else's schedule since the job is primarily to take care of them). And this is part of my job, too--I knit things for the people in my household. Also for extended fambly and for those who seem to need it, and for a charity of baby-blanket-ing run by a woman of my church. It is important to keep one's family warm and serves not only the practical goal of physical warmth: it is impressive to the general public since it basically serves as a sign saying "SOMEONE LOVES ME THIS MUCH". I happen to know personally that when one is lonely or self-doubting or just plain misunderstood, there is very little better than the tangible (if somewhat lopsided) reminder of love and care that others have for you.

Anyway, my stash falls into approximately three sections: sock yarn, handspun, and Other. I always have a sock project in the works and so use that up pretty steadily and don't feel the least pang of guilt on that account. My other yarn is sort of a collection of yarns from various places and times--some of it gifted to me and some of it purposed for some projects I haven't yet begun; this is fun yarn since it tends to be of a greater variety than my sock yarn. Some of it ends up as hats, some of it shawls, some armwarmers; I am getting together a more rigorous schedule for these projects to be completed too as I have some particularly lovely yarn.

The handspun is most problematic since I am only a beginning spinner right now and have spent most of my time trying out different fibers, rather than spinning up substantial amounts of a few types of fibers. However, I am discovering that although the yarn may be odd, slubby, nebby, over-twisted and uneven, the fabric made when the yarn is knitted, washed and blocked somehow evens out a bit and makes the mistakes smaller and less noticeable. Like these pictures--you'd be astonished if you'd seen what the skeins of yarn looked like that made these.

Some of my first laceweight yarn I am knitting into an Estonian lace scarf by one of my favorite designers: it shall be pretty and delicate and possibly good enough for the county fair:) The design looks like little ferns and lilies of the valley, but you have to look pretty close; the whole thing is rather wispy and soft.

Oh, and the first picture with the colorful roving was a sample of recycled sari silk--very interesting to spin, but a pain to work with otherwise. I am gifting the yarn to my mother who is curious to try and crochet with it.

Reading
I have just finished the audiobooks of þe Clowde of Unknowyng and Interior Castles and find myself even more interested in contemplative prayer. My doctors used to recommend calming exercises to keep my asthma at bay (it exacerbated my allergies and made my frequent bouts of pneumonia panicky and hellish). While I had trouble focusing on my breathing (or lack thereof) then, I am now enjoying ever so much more the practice of being still and listening. It feels so good to feel healthy.

I also had the chance to visit a university library today and am excited to have found a reference to half-fingered gloves for knitterly maidens as far back as the 12th century. This makes me happy.

Friday, May 7

O frabjous day!

This entry will be full of bad photographs and excited gushing, so if you are allergic to either I recommend you go back to whatever you were doing.


My family went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival this year and there my parents gave to me the gift of a spinning wheel. I don't know if it makes much of a difference to most of you, but to me spinning is a way to relax even more so than knitting. It is a particular favorite amongst my ridiculous collection of hobbies because it provides me with gifts to give to my friends and various other geometrically implausible textiles with which I burden my family, all in the name of love! I can work with my hands rather than paper-shuffling or maintenance (read: cleaning), and the whole knitting/spinning combination makes an excellent post-apocalyptic skill set. A relaxing post-apocalyptic skill set, and you can bet we'll need some kind of stress-relief after the zombies find the bunkers and velociraptors start showing signs of intelligence.

Spinning and knitting are both crafts that are mostly done by machine in our days, but there are some places where traditions are still being shared and passed along; I've met a few crafters who are very proud to be second- or third-generation knitters, crocheters, weavers, or spinners. I learned to knit ages ago by my mother's younger sister (unfortunately my hands were too small to hold the needles comfortably) and more recently (with complete fine motor skills!) by my own younger sister. I learned to spin by mentioning my desire to learn in front of my knitting pals. Immediately, I was given opportunity, information, and an endless stream of enthusiasm and advice. Sometimes that sort of thing is overwhelming, but it was the right time and with the right attitude, as well as a dash of obsessively purist medievalism (I tried different spinning techniques while my instructor raided my library). And really, knitting is a lot cheaper when you spin your own yarn because rovings/batts/fleece/etc. are generally cheaper than yarn.

I've been learning to spin since January this year and because I said I might like to spin for myself one day, my instructor has trained me up to go shopping for a good wheel. I learned about the disposable parts of the wheel, the history of their use and what they look like on other wheels, how to manage if you break one of them and aren't in the vicinity of help and the Christmas panic is upon you. It was because of this that I was able to find a used wheel of good make and model despite the aging and yellowed pieces, the drive band that made the wheel clunk unevenly, the undone spring and the wood that looked only patchily treated with a protective coat. For +$200 less than the price of a new wheel of the same type, this wheel spins just as well. It just needed a little care. Honestly, it took me about 45 minutes and a few bucks to get her back to working order--a new drive band (twine), brake band (nylon--something like fishing line), spring, conrod joint, and some polish & oil! The pieces in the above picture are pieces I took off of the wheel. They are a lot nastier if you see them with your own eyes; and the drive band smells like it has been dipped in something icky.

I first spun on it at the spin-in (akin to a knitters' group, quilting circle, etc.) after the MS&WF was officially disbanded for the night and all the vendors had left. I realized that, having sent my beautiful new fiber packages home with my family, that I had no fiber to spin for myself at the spin-in! So I stopped at a small booth of alpacas and their ambassadors and bought a good bit of unwashed fleece for a very low price--I am sure that the heat of the day was very helpful here. While smelly and a bit dirty to spin, the yarn from this fleece was so soft and fine after it was spun and washed! The fiber I'm spinning in this picture is some creamy merino wool, which will grow up to be Christmas presents. Probably arm-warmers. Anyway, I've spent most of my spinning time outside recently, in my little garden with the herbs there that are going quite wild with all the bright sun in the day and the light rains at night. The cats, too, are loving the company outside, and particularly approve of my presence when there is yarn involved.

Anyway, I thought I ought to introduce you, since you will both be seeing more of each other on this blog. If you visit and you want to talk to me your best chance of finding me in a lucid state (not one of hysteria over the approaching velociraptors) is if I'm spinning. Further goodwill can be purchased with Hunt Valley cashmere fleece.

I have named her Katheryn.

Wednesday, May 5

Watch this space!

I shall today or tomorrow post about my new spinning wheel. Sorry for those who've been asking:)

Friday, April 30

Ringing in the changes.

Today was rather a big day for me. It was that part of the movie where the guy in the field goes back home, lays aside his plow, and looks at the sword above his mantlepiece with a thoughtful and foreboding look (which seems strange on an actor with such nefariously plucked eyebrows). Then you get a montage, of course, and some sweeping soundtracky bits, and the credits in an unsuitable typeface before you get to see whether the story turns into him a war hero or whether it is a simple domestic anecdote set on a possibly irrelevant background.

In any case I didn't expect to be as confident as I was, walking into a prestigious university hall--sweeping staircases, high ceilings and something hideous in marble with a longwinded inscription--but for some reason I am no longer ashamed. Maybe enough time has passed? My interview went well and the director actually didn't ask for transcripts or an account of my professional publications or even an academic reference from my last institution. To tell the truth it was all rather shocking. Incidentally, I love speaking the same language and being from approximately the same culture as these people; it makes communication that much easier. Or maybe I am just older and more reckless.

Another big thing is that I believe my body to be recovering a little from the intense bouts of illness I experienced while overseas: I slept on my side last night, rather than on my back with my head propped just so to keep my swollen and clogged airway open. I slept on my side! Without taking medication! Sorry, but the world has to know. I am breathing. This is exciting.

And the last big thing (so far, today) is that I am several days closer to having my own spinning wheel. I can't even tell you how exciting that is. It is so relaxing to spin and to knit with handspun, homespun yarn. There is something very soothing about being creative and almost consistently productive, and at the same time knowing that what you are doing will be used for the good of the ones you love (quite literally to keep them warm). The act of spinning, itself, gives the same sensation as of the outward exhalation of a sigh; a relaxing, shoulder-dropping half-yawn of contentment.


My sourdough hybrid (commercial yeast as well as the natural yeast) efforts have been well rewarded. For instance, I made two loaves and only three pieces of them lasted to be day-old bread:) This makes me happy. I am more fond of the old-style sourdough without the additive of commercial yeast, but I have yet to perfect my baking of that type of bread. My cattern cakes this year will be tasty, though! I am thinking toasted walnuts and maybe some currants or raisins. Or cherries. Probably cherries.

Saturday, April 17

"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

Ever since we heard it the first time, my family has listened to Dylan Thomas' 'A Child's Christmas In Wales' every Christmas. That is the origin of the title quote. Here is its context:
"Were there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."
"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."
"There were church bells, too."
"Inside them?"
"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks."
For some reason, the time-tested method of my posting things online usually has to do with several references for the same concept surfacing in my consciousness enough times to be annoying. They seem to ask to be mentioned, and sometimes when I bring them up I come to a conclusion about the issue that presents itself. Mostly not, but you can't have everything. This time it is thunder.

'Into Great Silence', a film about an austere monastic community, was recently in my Netflix queue. How I love Netflix. Anyway, it is organized with filmed sequences and then quotations, a little like a silent film. One of the quotations says "O Lord, you have seduced me, and I have been seduced." This is from the prophet Jeremiah (20:7), who foretold the captivity in Babylon. Its proper context is thus:

O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed [...] Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.

After the quotation is shown, the film goes on to depict a thunderstorm, mighty and crashing. The streams on the mountain near the monastery flood and wildly overflow, lightning rips the sky apart, leaves are stripped from trees.

Though the film was recorded in France, it seems a lot like my Italian thunderstorms--violent winds and slashing rains; I've never felt the like of it in America or her cousins. During those storms I routinely checked the windows, shutters, doors, and cracks of the house for leaks, mostly shoving towels and layering blankets near them (all our floors were tile or granite) to keep out the accompanying cold and whistling shrieks from the wind. I understand now why fire seems such a primal comfort.

Always when I hear thunder, my immediate thought is not of protection or of a coming fear; there is something in me that echoes thunder. Something in me loves it, revels in it, welcomes it with a feeling of release; it is as if whatever makes my chest tighten and brow furrow is suddenly freed and gives a great heaving sigh like the first after a good cry. It is like those days when you are genuinely happy, walking somewhere, and somebody--a stranger--sees you and gives you a genuine smile; perhaps they are also a little quizzical or flirtatious or think they know what you are smiling about, but it is a genuine sharing of whatever drop of joy you carry that moment. It is also like keeping a secret you don't want to keep, and finding that somebody else knows your secret and sympathizes and you didn't have to break your promise or pretend it didn't exist.

Perhaps it is the reward of self-control. Charles Williams would perhaps have called this thundering a manifestation of God's "terrible goodness". And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, according to Solomon. So perhaps it is the reward of having feared, for so long, this terrible goodness. It has been twelve years since I was baptized.

I very much enjoy not being obliged to write or grade papers.

It has been warm enough recently that I've taken to cleaning up my bit of garden and moving around some lawn furniture so as to be able to read out there like I did last summer. I am very fond of it indeed and even with the winter's past snow it has done exceedingly well. My little walled garden is very traditional and very plain but made to last, and to be useful to the cook, laundress, healer, and child. Sometimes, too, I plant flowers for the sake of seeing them bloom, and above my fledgling bay trees I saw Forget-Me-Nots the other day. And yes, I am aware that my sentence construction is awkward. Go away.


Spinning
Having finished the delicious merino my instructor gave me I thought I'd backtrack a little and try a difficult fiber of which she gave me a few samples: cotton. With a very short staple and very little of the felting-type of splice you can make with wool this fiber seems the most unforgiving I've met yet. (A staple for spinning is a little like a stride for running; a short staple means you must work more quickly with your hands and slower with your feet and with a different technique than allowing a long staple like wool to simply flow with gradual movement of the hands and quicker feet on the pedals. Adjustment can be a pain.) Even the worst grade of mohair will turn into some kind of interesting looking yarn if you let it have its own way. Anyway, here are the plied samples of denim she gave me. One of them is just plain denim and the other is denim and recycled soda bottles. The latter is easier to spin.



I have two other samples of cotton I'll post when I'm finished with them--they are naturally colored cotton, not bleached or naturally white. One is a sort of olive green and the other a bright reddish brown. Interesting and tricky to spin, I find I like them better than recycled denim. Maybe if things go to plan I can spin some of that every summer and work on knitting washcloths for my bathroom and kitchen. I like this idea.

Baking
My recent sourdough efforts have been very nearly a success, but I am still getting the techniques down. Being gentle on the dough while still developing the gluten is not an easy task, especially when I'm used to instant yeast and a different, springy texture. Pictures will be posted as soon as I can get some good ones; so far the only really tasty-looking loaves were eaten while still warm.

Knitting
A pair of socks! They were going to be for my mother's birthday (several months hence) but I got excited and gave them to her early. This is from Nancy Bush's 'Knitting Vintage Socks', a book whose patterns I love. Nancy Bush is a wonderful historian, aside from being a practical knitter. The combination is impressive.

The socks have a German heel (true to word--my German friend-who-also-knits-socks-compulsively swears by this heel and kept trying to teach me a few more fiddly techniques I never quite understood due to knitting terms not exactly corresponding) and a French toe (of this I am not so fond).


Reading
I tried to read 'Mansfield Park' on audiobook but the download was faulty so I got a refund and somehow ended up downloading Teresa of Avila's 'Interior Castles' instead. As a medievalist I am more or less at home amongst the mystics and am strangely comforted by these letters from a world where dreams and visions and a living God were not things to be vivisected, psychoanalyzed, or ignored. I intend to listen to the rest of the book tomorrow as I spin, and also knit a bunch of dishcloths for a friend who is getting married. Even dishcloths can be beautiful, you know.

Dungeons and Dragons
A friend or two or three and I have been working at playing a good campaign of D&D every now and again. I'm very much the beginner and find myself much more into the spirit of the storytelling and strategizing than the arithmetics and trademarked categories. Perhaps I am not a good fit for the game (likely the case), or maybe we are playing too new a version. Anyway, it is all in good fun. Especially when the players I didn't know walked into the library space we had set up, checked out the least dusty books and nodded solemnly to each other without comment before giving us appraising looks.


Friday, April 9

First things first: is it wrong to consider a Cadbury creme egg a suicide pill?

Baking Sourdough Bread
I love the taste of sourdough bread, and I began to love it even more when I found out that it is this kind of yeast that the people I study would have used.

A simple mixture of flour and water left to the devices of local airborne bacteria create a rising agent that, when fed with more ground-up grains and water and eventually baked to a solid, crunchy and chewy deliciously tasty loaf in the oven becomes BREAD. Yay Nature. The starter that I have was bought from a company whose original starter (mine is a descendant) was over 250 years old; when the flour company was a small mill. Here is a picture of my starter at its first meal:

Yes, thank you, I was aware that my run-on sentences are prone to crash the synapses of my more grammatically sensitive readers. I will not be moved, because I am cranky and have a headache.

Spinning Fine Laceweight Merino Wool
After giving me a wide selection of awful and tolerable wools and blends to spin, my spinning instructor decided to let me loose with some beautifully soft merino.

It feels like the look of those clouds you see right as the sun sets--not the fierce, stark kind that are trying to prove some weird radical dualism in a darkening sky but the gentle golden glowy clouds that were raised on Brahm's lullabies and benevolence.

Though on a regular basis I still prefer natural, plain wool, as a novelty there is but cashmere to surpass this softness and ease of spinning. Because I can, I am spinning this yarn very very finely. I shall ply it against itself into two strands, and then knit it into something that can be worn next to the skin. Probably something lacy, because that means I get to knit with it for a longer period of time. The picture here is of a mechanical pencil with 0.7 lead in it, so you can see approximately how thin this thread is.

Oh, never mind. And Jane Austen.
I was going to write something about the unique construction of a German sock heel flap, but instead I am going to download an audiobook of Mansfield Park and spin for an hour or two. I was never able to finish it as a handheld book because I kept wanting to throw it across the room. Perhaps if I am spinning the violent impulse will be restrained. A little.

I know it seems "typical" (whatever that means) for women to read Ms. Austen's novels for what one of my friends calls "manners porn", but I think she actually was onto something important. She notices things, and I like the way she describes people--their features and their characters may be different but she judges them solely on one thing: whether or not they are capable of what she calls "strong attachment". Psychologists use the same term to describe the intense love between mothers and their babies, the all-enfolding intimacy of lovers, the pure constancy of friends, etc. etc. and the absence of that capability can tell quite a lot about a person.

And besides, now reading Austen reminds me of sitting in little cioccolatterie and fancy gran caffés of northern Italy (sometimes Austen was the only author I recognized in the half-shelf of English books available in local bookstores). How I miss them.

Thursday, April 8

Think about such things.

It is funny how with some of my friends I know them for short periods of time and on a superficial basis--coworkers, classmates, churchmice, coffee addicts--and others I have known for years and through toil and trouble and long absences and stubborn phases (for these I have had to search under floorboards and behind boulders and in trees).

These last are very singular, very much their own selves. Their friendship is solid and faithful and unique. I'm grateful from the foundation of my heart that with them I can be honest and interested and laugh at what I think is funny. And time is not something we worry about.

And now I must wash dishes and feed my sourdough starter, whom I have yet to name. Suggestions?

Wednesday, April 7

Soðlice Crist aras:)

Things about May
The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival looms ever nearer, and with it May Day (when I bake and assemble the first cream layer cake of the summer), and then my summer term begins with my first academic class in over a year. These are a lot of exciting things all in one month! This means that by my birthday I shall have a spinning wheel and be very fat and also have more Latin textbooks to curse!

H. C. Anderson's fairy tales
How I loathe them in comparison with the Grimms'. This is intolerable. Why must all children be complete sops and all adults be kindly with no sense of real humor at all! This is not the way things are at all, not in my world. Is there to be no mystery left?! Why must he be determined to understand everything? Children are not stupid, you know.

Knitting project finished
In other news, I finished my project for my mother's formal dinner. Fortunately or not the only picture I could get of the finished product has a cat posing on top of it. Hopefully I will be able to get a good shot of the blocked product on its wearer on the night of the event. The lace pattern is really much better seen when blocked, I think.

Friday, March 26

Apple Pi.



On the 14th of March (3.14) I attended a pi party. Naturally, I brought pie. And as soon as I took it out of the oven, out came all the geeks with their cameras!! Turns out excellently for my blog pictures. At least three of the apples I peeled for this pie, I peeled in one long strip the ENTIRE APPLE. I should get some kind of award.

Tuesday, March 23

"Single Ladies" by Saint Ambrose

Some long-winded personal excuses
I've been meaning to return to this blog for a long time but have had a difficult time being near my computer for any length of time without endangering it. Flour from cutting fat into pie pastry, dough from sticky rich doughnuts or sweet breakfast breads, mop slime, icky rags of goo from cleaning bathrooms, dustily dusty dust from the pharaohic collections under the sofa and chairs, ashes from the fireplace or wood stove, greasy dishwater every night after the evening meal... from all these things I have saved my computer. I'd say I've also done the same for my phone, but that is untrue. I dropped him into a sinkful of dirty dishes two weeks ago. Yes, he is still alive and well (this proves that my God has an extraordinary capacity for grace towards the simpleminded, absentminded, and forgetful).

This man has an excellent mustache.

My spare time is spent listening to the bible on audiobook and spinning or knitting, or trying to meditate. Somehow I have remained ridiculously highly-strung despite my efforts to the contrary and all my sacrifices of other activities I enjoy so much. But I like scribbling here. I am determined to pick it up again. Stop laughing! I really mean it this time!

A word about St. Ambrose and his treatise 'Concerning Virgins'
Being a single woman and a virgin, and a Christian of a peculiar sort, I have been reading bits of things that might explain more about how I ought to live my life. I don't have anything negative to say about it, but you must admit that outside of monasteries and nunneries there is little to recommend a single religious life to history. So I've been searching. There are several different ways to go about looking for this in medieval literature. I like saints' lives. They read a bit like case studies, with a dash of Indiana Jones in the middle and the end is always a bit Vincent-Price-ish. There is also the didactic side of things, which tends to be more intellectually stimulating though not always logical as we would think of it.

From somewhere in the National Gallery of Art--rare-ish to see a medieval woman's sleeves rolled up, no?

Ambrose uses both sides in 'Concerning Virgins': a short didactic piece and then a few case studies, interspersed with lots of bible verses taken out of context and a lot about how unfit Ambrose himself is to write anything at all. While I appreciate his noting that the holy figures closest to God were promised but not married, and all the Pauline stuff about it being okay to be married but better to be single, I wish he had gone into more depth. There is only a short part of his work that actually talks about how a virgin ought to live. Perhaps I am asking too much? I suppose I have already accepted that it is good for me to live as I do, and don't really need a reiteration of this justification. Also I could have done without the apocryphal stuff about Mary and the heathen martyrs. Hmm.

On knitting, spinning, baking, and other homely crafts
I have before mentioned that I have been working though a book of vintage sock patterns. I am about six patterns deep into the 24 offered in the book. That should surprise the knitters amongst you, but be ye not dismayed! I am only going so slowly because I have had other projects (mostly for new babies). I will try to post pictures appropriately.

Dad's Christmas socks.

I am also learning to spin, which has proved very amusing indeed, and much more time-consuming (though since I spin while listening to my daily bible study I get a surprising amount of things done). I am going to purchase my first wheel on May Day, and she schall be named Katheryn. I shall spin flax in the summer and wool in the winter, and maybe even post a video every now and again. I didn't think I'd like it so much, but the whole process is very relaxing and people keep buying me fiber so I can spin it into yarn for them (very efficiently providing two presents at once!).

My first handspun.

My baking endeavors have been praised to the heavens and my victims have licked their fingers. This makes me happy and joyful. I also have pictures of these things and have also been getting into the spirit of American holidays by baking for them. Hopefully pictures will be about this too, if I can ever get them done and uploaded.

King Cake

What happened to the medievalist that used to scribble here, and the degree you got, and all that work you were agonizing over... ?
I don't really know. Actually I do, but the story is too long for here. My life outside of academia has been more rewarding than my life in it. I am starting to take Latin classes again, though. Soon. I am taking off work to do that. More soon, I hope:)