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.

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.

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.

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).

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.