29 August 2010

Loose Ends

I did it! The link that Nicola found for me worked. Even though the pattern on that website is slightly different than the one I was using, the pictures helped me figure out how to fold the pieces I'd made to get them into proper slipper-ness. I'm sure there would be some interesting musings in that alone: using a pattern that's different from the one I lost to finish the work I hadn't expected to complete any more. And the value of friends who help you find your lost pattern. And having toasty toes on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

So here are my feet in their new toastiness. Top view and side view. I can report to you that those slippers are quite lovely and comfortable. Incidentally, does the word "slipper" refer to what you do to get them on your feet, or what happens to you when you wear them on a polished hardwood floor? (I did try out the latter once, when I was about eight or nine, and ended up in bed with a concussion for at least a week. I wouldn't recommend it.)

Finishing those slippers meant sewing up a million loose ends. Okay, perhaps not a million- but there are eight different squares in each, in three different colours, and each square has a beginning and end piece of yarn. You do the math. I don't like tying up loose ends. It's tedious, and somewhat messy, and not very zen-like, because you still have to pay some attention to it. You can't just zone out on it like on the stitch-click-stitch-click of the knitting itself. But it's got to be done. Actually, there is one thing I do like about it: when you're at the stage of tying up loose ends, it means you're nearly finished. That's what keeps me doing it, that inspiring feeling that the end is not only in sight, but right there squashed up against your nose. I like finishing, even if I don't like finishing- if you know what I mean.

Now, the only issue I have is that I don't actually need another pair of slippers. I've got some great moccasins which I got for Christmas last year, and which serve me quite well, thank you very much. Slippers, anyone?

27 August 2010

Lost Pattern

It's raining today. And I've got a rotten head cold. So, instead of doing the headless-chicken impression that I had planned on for today (a.k.a. cleaning the house), I'm just going to do not-much-of-anything. I pulled out my knitting again, because to me, knitting is a bit of a not-much-of-anything activity. Stitch after stitch after stitch, bit by bit- it's a very inefficient way to produce clothing. But as a meditation technique it has a lot going for it.

Here's a project I've had on the needles for some time. It's meant to be a pair of slippers when it's finished. A number of simple squares in garter stitch, attached to each other, rather like a scarf with a couple of extra pieces sticking out the sides. Then there's supposed to be some rather complicated bit of folding-and-sewing trickery, attaching the corner of square number one to the edge of square number three-and-a-half and so on, and you're meant to end up with something that keeps your toes toasty.

The only problem is that I've lost the pattern. I found it in a library book, and copied it out by hand on a piece of paper- I even drew the picture of how it's supposed to look, and coloured it in with felt pens. I returned the book, knitted the first slipper (but didn't sew it together yet)- and then lost the paper. It just went AWOL. And for the life of me I can't remember what the book was called. So I know how to knit the piece- I can just follow the pattern of the first one- but I have no idea how it's meant to be finished any more.

A lost pattern. But the project is still going. And working on it like that, without knowing if I'll ever be able to really finish it, rather emphasises the zen aspect of the whole experience. I'm knitting for the sake of knitting, not for the sake of having finished slippers to wear at the end. It's quite a useful discipline.

Isn't it also rather like life, in some ways? We're doing things a certain way because once, we had a pattern for it, we had a goal. Now the pattern is lost, but we still carry on doing it the same way, because now the aim of doing it has changed. Now I knit because I enjoy the sensation of the yarn sliding through my fingers, the slow rhythm of the needles poking, looping, clicking, poking again.

Actually, in the back of my mind, I still hope, faintly, that I'll find that book again. Or that someone will know the pattern, and can tell me. Or that, in experimenting with the finished pieces, I'll remember how it was supposed to go. So in working on that piece of knitting, I work on hope. Not anticipation- just a vague thought that maybe I'll be able to finish this after all. But I won't worry about it now. For now, I'll just stitch. Bit by bit. Whenever I feel like it, or I have a head cold.

Life, the universe, lost patterns, and hope. I'll let you know if the slippers ever get finished.

25 August 2010


Well, I was going to blog this morning about The Backpack. I was going to wax eloquent about the wonders of this piece of equipment, which allows you to carry any number of items around with you, whether you need them or not. And I was going to illustrate it with this lovely photo of my backpack, with Steve peeking out of it (he does that; he likes to travel. Our last trip was going camping).

But, oh infernal frustration, the photo refused, absolutely refused, to be flipped upright. I flipped it one way, and it stayed sideways. I flipped it the other way, and it did a double-flip to lie sideways the other way. Needless to say, eventually I pretty much flipped myself. (Yes, I'm afraid I said a bad word or two. Actually, I'm not afraid- I quite courageously admit it: I said bad words. And it did help relieve my feelings; I highly recommend it.)

So then I got to thinking: I've got this picture. It won't go the way I want it to, to illustrate what I want to say. So perhaps I need to say something different? Because that's often the way it is in life. We think things are one way, but then they end up permanently flipped sideways. And we can rant and rave, say bad words, and bash our heads against the computer for an hour, leaving greasy-forehead prints on the screen, but it's not going to make things flip the way we think they should be. Or we can just take them in their sideways-flipped state, and work with them as they are.

It's not going to be the same. And it's not second-best, either. You're not going to get an eloquent article about backpacks with a sideways-flipped picture; it just doesn't cut it. But perhaps you can get some thoughts about the whole issue of things being flipped sideways when you don't want them that way. About things being entirely different than you had expected them to be. There is an excellent article out there called "Welcome to Holland", by Emily Perl Kingsley, which expresses it better than I could- or perhaps just differently.

Because different is good. It's not better, it's not worse- it's just different.

And even so: if, today, you prefer to think about backpacks, instead of differentness, you can just tip your head sideways, and look at the photo that way. Steve won't mind.

22 August 2010


On the third day, God created plants. And I'm quite sure that at the very end, when he'd made all the other stuff, he said "Now, for the crowning achievement: The Peach!" And he created it round and fuzzy, juicy, yellow-and-pink and delectably sweet. And God saw that it was good. And the evening and morning were the third day.

I didn't make any canned peaches last year, so we were reduced to buying the ones from the grocery store. The kids weren't impressed; it's just not the same, they said. And they are right, of course. Now, the thing is that when I was a kid myself, back in Germany, tinned peaches were one of my favourite things, a high treat that we didn't get very often (there's a fun recipe called "Falsche Spiegeleier", Fake Fried Eggs, with is half a canned peach in a flat dish with vanilla custard poured around it. It does look like a fried egg, and is quite a yummy dessert.). I thought they were wonderful. But then that was before I came to Canada, and experienced the marvel of real, fully-ripe, still-warm-from-the-sun peaches picked right off the tree. In fact, perhaps it was the peaches that lured me over the Atlantic to permanently settle here? (No, don't tell my husband. It had nothing to do with marrying him at all. I only married him for his guitar, anyway.)

One of the things I like best about summer is bringing home a box of peaches from the farmer's market or the orchard down the street, and having them sit on the kitchen counter for a few days, getting ever more ripe and tender; and then, while leaning over to get something from one of the upper cupboards, getting a big nose-full of that incomparable scent of soft sweetness. It's beyond me why the makers of fake foods think they can reproduce that aroma with "peach flavouring". Hah! I scorn their attempts, I laugh in their faces- hahahah!

Now to put all that goodness into jars for winter, when the snow flies and the scent the house is filled with is cinnamon simmering in the potpourri burner on the windowsill.

Life, the universe, and peach season. I love it.

17 August 2010

The Value of Nothing

First of all, apologies to Mr Raj Patel for stealing the title of his excellent book, which is on my to-read list, and which has nothing whatever to do with this post. It's just that it's too good a title to not use it for what I want to say.

We went camping on the weekend. There's nothing like a good camping trip for doing Nothing. Just sitting in a chair, with a cup of tea in hand, perhaps looking at the not-lit fire, listening to the chipmunk chattering in the underbrush, smelling that wonderfully spicy scent of the forest floor baking in the hot afternoon sun, like nature is preparing a batch of cinnamon buns. Watching said chipmunk scurrying out from said underbrush, rushing across the campsite, surreptitiously hopping on your picnic table and trying to steal a marshmallow from the bag where it is awaiting the evening's S'mores Toasting Feast. Doing Nothing. Why don't we do that more often?

Because, truth be told, there's no such thing as Nothing. We always do Something, even if it's watching little furry thieves snatch their overdose of sugar for the year (I wonder if the SPCA could get you for that? Luring with marshmallows. I can just see Chippy, once he's hooked, flogging his wares in the nearest dark forest alley: "Hey, you, want some snow? Three acorns, jus' for you!").

Doing Something. The question is just what that Something is. In our product-oriented society, sitting and listening to the forest is considered Nothing. And because it's Nothing, we feel guilty doing it, unless we're on a camping trip.

And that, really, is silly. The Nothing of this kind, it is Something. It feeds your soul. There are so many starving souls around, dying from lack of Nothing. Because you can't measure, weigh or count it, we don't realize we're missing it. Until we stop, and inhale the cinnamon scent of the forest floor, and feel it filling up the hollow in our soul.

Incidentally, if, on your next camping trip, you see a crazed chipmunk racing around the campsite desperately searching for something, with little flecks of white in the corners of his mouth, don't give in to him. He's already had more marshmallow this year than is good for him.

08 August 2010


So there I was, standing in my kitchen, weeping as I was contemplating the beauty of poetry. (I was also chopping several large onions at the time, but that's entirely beside the point). So I thought I would share some with you (poetry, not onions). How about something by The Bard, say, Sonnet 116?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds...

And then, a few hundred years later, there's this:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea...

If you think that the guy who wrote that must have been on drugs, you are, of course, entirely correct (if somewhat of a philistine). Coleridge was addicted to laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, the 19th-century painkiller of choice. But you don't need to be high to appreciate lines like this:

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran...

I haven't got the faintest notion what "mazy" might be, but it sure sounds lovely, doesn't it? Truth be told, I really don't "get" Kubla Khan, actually, but that's perfectly alright. I love it anyway. It's rather like a semi-abstract painting: there are recognizable shapes in it, weaving in and out of the colour-motion on the canvas; it's beautiful, even if (or perhaps because) you can't tell "what it's supposed to be".

There's just one thing I wonder about: Why Alph? Why not, say, Bert? "Where Bert, the sacred river, ran..." Has a certain ring to it, don't you think? No, actually, me neither.

06 August 2010

Coffee that doesn't taste like coffee?

As my friend Wade so eloquently says, this article is an example of everything that's wrong with the world. Coffee that doesn't taste like coffee? Uh, why?!? Perhaps, because you still want the caffeine, but don't like the flavour? But, no. This stuff hasn't got the caffeine, either. So it doesn't taste like coffee, and doesn't do what coffee does- so what are the coffee beans doing in it in the first place?

On behalf of all my coffee-loving friends, I'm offended. I don't drink coffee, myself, because I don't like the taste (sorry). Occasionally, I'll have some if the only alternative is using matchsticks to prop open my eyelids. But I don't enjoy it. I wish I did; I wish I liked coffee. It smells great, especially the fresh grounds; there are so many delicious-sounding varieties of it; it blends much better with chocolate than, say, tea. And then there's the social aspect of it - everybody's drinking it; there's coffee bars and coffee houses all over the place, and whenever somebody hands out "refreshments", they usually involve the bean brew.

So, no, sorry, Starbucks, this really isn't going to cut it for me, either. It covers none of the aforementioned uses for coffee. In fact, I'm still utterly puzzled as to the purpose of this new stuff.

Oh, and just by the way, people, let me give you a little hint: if you want something that's a) not roasted, b) doesn't taste like coffee, c) has small amounts of caffeine in it, d) blends well with fruit flavours, e) tastes great iced, and f) is very refreshing, there's this stuff called - here, let me whisper it to you: psspsspss. That's right. Spelled T-E-A. Rumour has it, you can even get it at Starbucks.

Life, the universe, and coffee-that-doesn't-taste-like-coffee. What next?

04 August 2010


One of the things my blogging teacher said was that one way to increase traffic on your blog is to say something controversial. Well, I ain't doing that. But that's just because I'm writing in English; if I was writing in German, it would be a foregone conclusion. There's always another German out there who disagrees with what you're saying, no matter what it is. They'd be out there in now time flat, going "So ein Quatsch!" (Incidentally, I'm allowed to make categorically derogatory statements about Germans, because I is one. If you're not, don't try. We'd jump on you and flatten you in no time; Germans drink in debating skills with their mother's milk- or their Alete Infant Formula, as it were.)

What is Quatsch, you ask? It's a wonderfully expressive word which is pronounced just as it looks. And means about that, too. Note, I'm not talking about Quark, which is a slightly tart soft white cheese, and which I miss so much over here in Canada that I'm willing to fork out $10/kg for the stuff when I can get it ("it" being the ten bucks, or the Quark, either one). Put on toast, with jam on top- aah, cheesecake for breakfast! And it's healthy as all-get-out, too.

And here, just for your delectation, is today's completely random picture. They're a bunch of Pet Rocks, and they've all got names, too. But I can't remember what they all are. The one on the right is Rudolph, I remember that much. And the back left is Rob.

Life, the universe, and Quark. Quite tasty.

03 August 2010

why this is a bad blog

I feel a distinct need to outline to you why this here blog of mine is, in fact, a bad blog. That (the need, not the blog) is because I'm a good student, yes indeedy, and I did pay attention in the blogging course I just took. I'm disregarding the teacher's advice with full intentionality, but would like to point out where and how I'm doing so (the why... that's left up to you to decide, gentle reader).

Firstly, this is a bad blog because it's not about anything in particular. It's stuffed full of random rambles and rants on just about anything- well, anything that comes across my mind. A really good blog, my teacher says, solves a problem, or answers a question, or in some other way fulfills a need in the reader. Well, unless you have a need to read some random and nonsensical drivel on a regular basis, I'm afraid you're out of luck here.

Secondly, this is a bad blog because it's going to be updated with great irregularity. Right now, I'm into blogging; but, as anyone who knows me will tell you, my crazes come and go. One day, I'll lose interest, and there you will be, with a blog going progressively more stale and growing bits of fuzzy blue mould on it. That's bad blogging. Bad blog, bad! (Except that fuzzy blue mould is actually quite interesting from a scientific point of view. I once grew some on the windowsill that looked like it had tiny dandelion heads on it. Quite Seussian in appearance; you know, like the Truffula trees from The Lorax.)

But if you don't care, or you would like to study the mould-growing habit of the spotted or herbaceous blog, or make some statistical observations on just how random my thought patterns can be and draw some parallels to the weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, then, by all means, stick around.

Life, the universe, and blog mould. Could be interesting.

02 August 2010

high-tech produce

It rained last night, and as soon as morning rolled around, out came the choppers. Whapwhapwhapwhapwhap, buzzing over my house, off to blow-dry the cherries in the orchard down the street. I kid you not. Rain means wet cherries; wet cherries split; and split cherries rot very fast. So rain means a ruined crop for cherry orchardists, or it used to, until some smart cookie came up with the helicopter idea.

And when the helicopter was gone, the music started up. No, it's not meant to make the cherries happy- you know, how some people talk to their house plants to make them grow better? Nope, not like that. (And it wouldn't work anyways, because, weren't we taught in no uncertain terms back in the '80's that crops that have rock music played to them wither and die, unlike the classical- or christian-music-listening turnips, thereby proving conclusively that rock music is of the devil? Or something.) And it's not even meant to make the itinerant fruit pickers happy while they pluck those little parcels of black-red juicy goodness off the trees. No, this music is, literally, for the birds. Apparently, so the orchardist tells me, the ravenous beasts have got so used to the orchard cannons that the whizzzz-bang doesn't scare them off any more. But the local radio station seems to still do the trick. The birdies probably just don't like the DJ's taste in music- can't say I blame them, personally. But I have much greater tolerance for the music, now that I know it means I get more cherries to munch, without peck holes courtesy of that feathered thief up there.

Life, the universe, and high-tech cherries. It's all good.

01 August 2010

Joyful Eating

I'm reading Julie and Julia, which is surely required reading for any new-baked hopeful blogger (book contract, here I come? Uh... never mind).

Apart from the fact that Julie Powell is a whole lot more foul-mouthed, albeit also funnier, in her writing than Amy Adams portrays her in the movie, what strikes me about the book is the sheer pleasure Julie gets from her cooking. She cooks not from a vague sense of "shoulds", from a desire to follow the latest tenet in the religion of "thou shalt/shalt not eat this-n-that", but because it's sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Well, the eating is, anyway; the cooking, not always so much (the story of her first extraction of marrow from a beef bone is rather entertaining. Even if she didn't find it so at the moment).

Here, listen to this:
"Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. ... It's joy. [...] I didn't understand for a long time, but what attracted me to MtAoFC [Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child's book] was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility." (page 356 in the paperback edition).
She's talking about a cookbook here, people.

In fact, that last quote reminds me of nothing so much as my favourite un-diet book, French Women Don't Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano). It's all about that: eat delicious food, in portions small enough so you can enjoy it, because it's just so dang good. Because it's all about life. Not about calories, not about "thou shalt". The joy of eating, eating for joy.

Life, the universe, and a grilled steak with greek salad, pita bread and hummus. Oh yeah.

Here we are

I took a blogging course yesterday. Yes, a course, in a classroom, with a teacher. Well, excuuuse me- some of us prefer learning from real people to just getting information from a book, or worse yet, a website. And a good course it was, too. I learned lots of interesting stuff. For example: never publish a post without a picture. So here goes:
That's Steve. He's better-looking than me, not to mention more photogenic, so he gets to have his picture in the blog first.

Did I mention I learned lots of useful stuff in the course? Yes. One of them was that a blog is supposed to have a focus, you know, be about something. Well, this one isn't. Or doesn't. Whichever. It's also not going to have any favicons on it, you know, those little annoying pop-up buttons that allow you to tell all your friends on Facebook how fabulous my blog is, and how it's the latest thing in useless information (sorry).

Speaking of which, there's a great book out there: "The Ultimate Book of Useless Information". It imparts to you such earth-shatteringly important bits of knowledge as the fact that it's illegal in Alaska to intoxicate a moose. Oh good, I'm so glad I know that. My holiday plans included going to Alaska and getting the first moose I meet snockered. Seeing as that would be the first moose I'd have met in my life, period, it really would be a shame to get fined for it, too.

So there you have it: life, the universe, Steve, and a snockered moose.
Do not look for any updates too terribly soon, you might get very thirsty in the meantime.

Cheerio! amo