Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Math with Sylvie

She says- 27 plus 56 is 20 plus 50 is 70 but 7 plus 6 is 13 so that's another ten which is 80 and then 3 more . That's 83! 

Imagine all this in an animated voice.

Doing math with Sylvie is rather like doing math with Vizzini.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

More Sewing- Ottobre

But no pictures yet.

Someone reminded me about Ottobre, which is a pattern magazine out of Finland. They have children's sizes up to 170, and even a women's magazine each year. There is a way to subscribe in the states, but it's easier to use their website to browse through issues of their magazines, and find one that has things you might want to make. Then, Sewzanne's and a few other online retailers have back issues of the magazine.

There are good things about Ottobre. They tend to be fashion conscious, especially in the larger sizes. There are always different ideas for embellishments which could be applied in many sewing projects. The patterns do not have seam allowances, which actually makes it easier to cut up pattern pieces for adding flare or to do alterations.

There are problems with Ottobre. Their patterns make more sense when you are already fairly experienced at sewing. The instructions are slim, and there are pertinent details scattered through the pattern sheets and project section of the magazine. Being fashion conscious means they have many patterns for knit fabrics, which are relatively hard to come by in good quality prints or colors. (I think in Finland, and maybe elsewhere, they have stores where you can buy their specific fabrics.) The patterns are very cleverly included on the sheets that have MANY patterns, each in a different color, on a single side of the paper. This means you MUST trace the patterns in order to use them.

All of the "bad" things are also part of what make these magazines so great. I'm not sure of a better way to include all they include in a single magazine. And the patterns really do turn out pretty well, especially if you have some sense regarding nice ways to finish a garment. Though I had forgotten the size range, I did use these magazines a few years back with pretty good success and quite limited sewing experience. I would say the patterns and instructions are still much better than any Simplicity pattern I've had the misfortune to use.

They also end up being a learning opportunity for me. For example, I made Phaedra a lined skirt. It was the first lined thing I've made. It's fitted, so I also altered the pattern successfully with the help of this book, which by the way is pretty darned awesome for information. Another thing I learned is that the weight of the fabrics is terrifically important. The pattern was for a heavy satin, and I used corduroy. The skirt doesn't hang quite right; if I had just done the pleats slightly differently, it would look fine. It's my opinion that the thin instructions free one up to experiment this way; I just happen to have trouble experimenting in the middle of a project.

So, back I go to the shirt I'm making to go with the skirt. The shirt is from this book, which I have had trouble with in the past. However, my new skill with alterations should make a success. I also did a step I've never done before; I made a mock up of the bodice out of an old sheet to be sure the shirt will fit. This step is totally worth it! Pictures to come...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Used to Be Vegan

Back when I knew better, when I knew I was right, I did not eat any meat or eggs or milk or honey. I ate vegetables, soy, beans, and grains. I carefully chose food that made a complete diet. And Jason and I spent a lot of time working out animal-free analogs for many holiday favorites. We used whipped tofu for cranberry salad, for example.

Why do this? For one thing, we knew that the meat available at the grocery store was not produced humanely. We knew all about the battery hens that gave us eggs. We knew about the tie ups where dairy cows pretty much spent their lives.

For another thing, we really like experimenting. How can we get swiss corn bake without any swiss cheese?

Pregnancy completely changed my priorities. After subsisting for twelve weeks on cashew butter and soy milk, I began stealing meat from my friends' plates. And that was the end of our four-year vegetarian experiment.

It helped that Jason had already been rethinking the whole thing. We suddenly knew a different set of "right" things. We knew our soy wasn't free of animal products, or if the soy beans were, they were loaded with petro-chemical fertilizers. We knew that many of the analog food-type things we were eating were actually very far removed from "food". We knew that soy is actually pretty indigestible in most of the forms we were using it. We knew there were meat and dairy options out there that were kinder to animals- if we could find them in the burbs in Texas.

Thirteen years later, we are no longer right (much to everyone's relief). We do feel pretty good about our choices, just less self- righteous. We eat LOTS of meat and eggs and milk, but it all spent most of it's life on grass. I know the chickens who give us eggs, and we do our best to give them a good life. Our cow is probably lonely, but otherwise, she has a pretty nice life, as well. We still eat vegetables, but we also know who grew the majority of them. Legumes don't figure too highly, and soy not at all. Grains come and go; our feelings about them waver.

And still, having given up on being right, we are far from any sort of purity. Our cranberry sauce is made with local cranberries, but I haven't found a reliable source for Vermont oranges. Sabra and Cedar's hummus is really better than any other hummus I've had, with the exceptions of Byblos and Filiz Ozkan's. We really like Cabot cheese, which is at least local.

What is definitely true is that we enjoy our food. I believe our food choices are political acts, but what hits the table needs to be free from rancor and self-righteousness. Julia Child emphasized that food is not just so many vitamins and calories, but an entire experience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


One strange thing about this place when we arrived was a lack of wild life and a narrow range of plant life. We could not tell if it had to do with our proximity to the highway or the atv trail or something else. Each year, I notice something that was not here before.

This spring, for example, we had dandelions for the first time. That seems almost impossible to believe, I know, but there was a line that crept from the front field. By the end of summer, there were a couple of dandelion flowers on the back margin of the channel. I keep wondering what our soil lacks or what the previous owners did to make the ground inhospitable to dandelions. I know they are not an ideal thing to have in a hay field, but the cow does eat them and they are good for the soil, so I see no harm in having them in our pasture.

Red clover, which we seeded in one pasture, is working it's way slowly into all four pastures and up around the house.

We have also seen more frogs each summer. This past summer, a couple of toads showed up in the front beds and the house garden. I made places that might be good homes for toads, as I hope for many more will come and stay.

We hang a bird feeder each autumn, and before this year, we only had chickadees and a couple of blue jays visit. This year, we've had our regulars, but also a nuthatch, pine siskin, house sparrow, and a wood pecker. Also, the hummingbird feeder had a pretty steady visitor this past summer.

We have known there are chipmunks and red squirrels, because the cats leave their remains in obvious paces. However, the red squirrels seemed much closer to the house this summer; they sassed us as we went through the garage door and as I worked in the house garden. And gray squirrels, which have been moving ever north and east across Vermont, showed up about three weeks ago in the trees around the front pasture. We'll see whether they stay through the winter.

Each new plant or animal seems like good news, even the ones that might be considered pests.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sewing for a "Tween"

I actually despise the term tween and see it only as a marketing word. However, I've had to use it the past couple of days in order to sort through sewing patterns online for Phaedra. It's been extremely frustrating.

First, she still really likes the patterns that go to a child's size 8, but Oliver and S and Izzy and Ivy and many other really neat patterns stop too small. I'm sure there's a way to do alterations, but this is beyond my skill level. Even McCall,s and Kwiksew have precious little in her size range, and much of that is a style I won't bother with.

Second, she's very far from fitting the proportions of a lady's pattern. This isn't surprising, but I did explore the option when I realized how few girls' patterns go beyond size 8 or 10.

I have spent over two hours trolling through sewing sites, looking for patterns that appeal and will fit. I finally found a few, and the way I found them was the search term "tween". And since I feel credit should be given when deserved, the site that had the most options in her size is Sew Mama Sew.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


We did many of the little tasks today that will facilitate other tasks, those detail things that don't exactly inhibit progress, but hang over your shoulder as you're trying to concentrate elsewhere.

First, Jason and I lingered over our coffee and did a crossword puzzle. We like this routine, but we haven't been able to indulge since we started school, either because the table had to cleared for school or because Jason had to hop right into work. The slow start on the day sets a pleasant tone.

Next, we loaded up the things for a run to the dump, Jason pulled the dead battery out of the CRV, and I hung a load of laundry on the line. We let things build up for the dump, and the past two weeks, the trash bags and miscellany have irritated as I waded around them when I entered the garage. I killed the battery in the CRV by once again leaving the lights on for at least 24 hours. And today, we were blessed again with some November sun, so it was a fine day for laundry.

We dealt with all the stuff in the truck, ran an errand for Jason's work, and parked the truck in the barn to keep the supplies in the bed dry. I held a cable while Jason put the new battery into the CRV. I made lunch while Jason ran by his mom's just to check on things. Jason talked to our friend who will help build the cow shed, and he talked to another friend who might take the BMW wheels we've had in the barn for three years. After lunch, we measured off the site for the new cow shed, and then cleaned out the garage.

Like I said, it was all little stuff, but I feel lighter and a little more prepared for winter.

Friday, November 9, 2012

You Have to Mean It

A friend was once praising a particular cover of "Hallelujah" by someone on one of those Star Search sort of television shows. The singer was maybe 20. While the singer was quite good, the song's power is in the lyrics as well as the music, and it is a rare 20 year old who can deliver this song with an understanding of its deeply dark undertones. The link above is tinny, so you will just have to trust me when I say Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen are equally up to the emotional part regardless of how good their voices are. You can feel the twist in their guts as they each deliver the song.

Another performance that exemplifies what I'm trying to get at is Kurt Cobain's version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night". While I'm fairly certain he knew nothing of losing a spouse under the wheels of a train, you can feel that he knows what it means to be "in the pines". At the outset, you know the song is ominous and my breath freezes in my chest as he moves through the chorus at the end.

Whatever that quality is, Fiona Apple has had it since she was seemingly too young to know what she was talking about. So I know it's not all age and experience.

And whatever it is, I think it's why Bob Dylan's music works- I mean, it just cannot be the quality of his voice exactly.

While I can enjoy a light pop song as much as the next person, I will steadily choose those that seem to know what they're talking about and mean it, whether or not I can grasp their meaning.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Social Markers

When I was in college in Austin, we carefully avoided people talking loudly to themselves as they moved down the street. There was the large man who softly mumbled as he cut his eyes at your swiftly passing form. There was the man who knelt on the same corner every afternoon beseeching the heavens, wildly gesticulating, eyes glued to the sky. There was the woman who would snicker as you walked by, and another who told you what hell would be like.

Now, almost none of these behaviors mean you're probably crazy, off, of a different reality. Really, anything except the kneeling just means you're on the phone.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Age Appropriate

Way back, when I was pregnant the first time, I looked at the list of toys we needed in order to have a superior child, or at least to avoid being sub-par parents. The list varied in length depending on which book or magazine I read, but I came away with just a few things that were MUSTS. One was blocks.

Well, let's fast forward to wee little Ezra sitting propped up in a high chair, offered a block or two to occupy him. At this point, blocks looked like a good choice, but if we gave him a napkin or spoon or bagel or cup, he was much more interested. The blocks were fine for him to manipulate, but in no way a formative experience for a 4- to 9-month-old.

By twelve months, the well-informed parent hopes Baby is stacking at least two blocks on one another. That makes blocks again seem very important; they help us know that Baby is growing well. But any parent who spends time with Baby can see whether he is beginning to put things together; there is not actually anything magical about blocks. And by twelve months, Ezra had figured out a much better thing to do with blocks- throw them. This became a discipline moment, and I worked on it and worked on it. We worked on it until he was about four when he suddenly did the thing with blocks that I figured he would start doing a year or two earlier, building.

The girls followed a similar trajectory with blocks, but this post is not all about blocks. What I really mean to say is we are sold toys repeatedly for younger children that these same children would enjoy more at a later age, especially if they were novel at that point. Legos are another fine example. Yes, most three-year-olds of my acquaintance can and will assemble Lego pieces, but six-year-olds can follow the instruction books for the smaller sets, they can then disassemble pieces by themselves. If you wait even longer, like until they're nine, for the more complicated sets, they can do the figuring for themselves, which will lead to them venturing into new constructions all their own.

I saw the same thing with dolls, doll houses, kitchen play, Play Mobil, etc. They make many things with extra bells and whistles for smaller children to try to get them to play with the toys the parents think they OUGHT to enjoy. It is good to remind ourselves that these people are trying to separate us from our money; they are not really all that interested in our children's development. The time we spend with our children is our most valuable tool is determining what they are actually ready for; no table of expected milestones or far removed expert can beat that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dark is Coming

I read somewhere recently that people who claim to like winter are people who feel pretty secure in what they have set aside for it. Right now, we have plenty set aside.

The pantry is full- mostly of tomatoes and apple cider. The freezer is near bursting with chickens, beef, butter, lard, tallow, berries, green beans, and melon. We'll have to find room for half of a pig. There's kimchi in the cellar. The chickens are laying pretty well. We're getting almost 3 gallons of milk a day. The wood is stacked. I guess we're about ready for winter.

And suddenly, even before daylight savings time ends, it's really quite dark at completely decent hours, like 6:30. When it gets dark, my prey brain says, "Time to tuck into the burrow." Unfortunately, that would mean very little in the way of a social life. My goal this winter is to force myself out into the dark more often. I'm starting a sewing circle that meets in the evening, and I'm going to attend at least one reading or similar thing per month. I like staying home, but I think I'll feel more involved in our community if I make this effort.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Weatherman Is Crying Cus He's Happy

If you were in Austin in the early nineties, you had the chance to see an amazing band called Shoulders. We only saw them a few times, probably under ten, and their performances and wonderful lyrics still play in my head.

The lead singer, Michael Slatterly, had a raspy voice, and dressed in an Austin musician's uniform- sweaty, poly-blend button-down, old man's hat, and non-committal facial hair. Being the front man, he's really the only one I remember. There was a bass drum set up on the front edge of the stage, and he would whale on it, driving the audience with his mania.

The music was raucous; the entire band (besides maybe the drummer) definitely danced around the stage.  Their shows were like a fun house; everything seemed exciting and happy until you listened more closely to the lyrics. That's when things got dark, warped, and slightly menacing.

After we left Austin, I found a cd of their music. I was thrilled, at least until I actually played it. Whoever produced it had trimmed off the razor edges. What was left was sadder, colder, and quieter than a tombstone.

So, because their lyrics keep going around in my head-

Outside Lulu's bar and pool
a pack of wolves gather round
they howl and drool.
They'll eat anything that bleeds...

It's just a charm not a jewel
it's just a charm from a fool...

In trashman's shoes

Uncle Akin was sore at the world
For what I do not know
But when he spoke to the flowers they
did grow grow grow!