Friday, December 18, 2009

Some thoughts on grading...

Having just finished a semester that was capped off by grading 38 freshman composition portfolios, grading is still fresh in my mind. I feel I have come a long way in the four years I have been teaching. Grading is a tricky task, especially in English, especially in composition - it's so "subjective." No multiple choice. So I use rubrics and try to thoroughly explain what makes a paper a good paper or a not so good paper.

However, some doubts still linger, doubts also voiced by some fellow TAs. Like, "The student worked so hard and improved so much. They deserve an A." Or, "The student is working with a disadvantage, like English is his second language, or she comes from an underprivileged background. They cannot be graded by the same standard."

Here is the analogy I have developed. English 101 is like a race. The students sign up to run the race. The teacher is a coach. We make them run laps and give them pointers about improving their form or their time or their strength. Then, we mark off a course, yell "Go," and start the timer. Some students will have a natural advantage - they are stronger, they've done a lot of running before, etc. Some students will have improved a lot from the time they first started training and can run much faster. However, the stop-watch is what matters. If a runner improved their time from a 13 minute mile to a 10 minute mile, that is fantastic and they should be celebrated. But that does not mean that they have run an 8 minute mile. Some students will make stupid mistakes. They won't show up for practice, or they will veer off the course, or they will come without their shoes. They will have a lousy time, but the coach can't adjust their time, give them extra-credit.

I think that the problem lies with conflating a grade with a reward. And I have to confess that I did this for the entirety of my student career - my self-worth was entirely mixed up with the grades I received. But the grade is not the reward, it is just the assesment, it's your time. It shows you how well you have done, what your abilities are, and how you could improve. It is a valuable tool for a runner, as a grade is for a student. This is why grade inflation is so ridiculous. Giving a student an A when he has done B- work, is like telling a runner who runs a 10 minute mile that he can run an 8 minute mile. He will be unaware of the training he needs and at the next race, he will be overwhelmed when he is passed.

From what I have gathered, there is a lot of debate on process-value and product-value in composition circles. Do you place value on the student's ability to master the process of writing, shown through revision, or do you place the value on the final product they have written? It seems to me that perhaps there is another way of looking at it, not just process or product but performance - if you run well with good form and a lot of miles of practice behind you, you're going to have an impressive time - performance seems to encompass both the final product and the process that it took to achieve it.

Anyway, thoughts?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Timeline of a Migraine

Indulging myself with complaining. If self-pity isn't your thing, look away.

Sunday night, 7:30 - headache begins, having been precipitated by not eating at the usual time because we were doing the Christmas play - in combination with the extreme performance anxiety (I had a solo) and the glaring stage lights that shone in my face the whole time, this is apparently the perfect storm to cause a migraine for me. I am still trying to determine if there was something that I ate as well. I was shocked to see photos of myself taken an hour before the migraine began showed me with a puffy face - my fat face. I am beginning to think that this is a warning sign that a migraine is imminent - my eyes were also weird looking. That night I go to bed, thinking I'll sleep it off as usual.

Monday morning - I sleep in well past my usual wake-up time and find that the headache has not disappeared in the night. It varies in intensity throughout the day. At 4:00 I finally take my prescription migraine medication, fully expecting to be better by 6:00 - it usually takes about two hours to work. No dice. I go to bed that night thinking, surely this will be gone by the time I wake up.

Tuesday morning 3:30am - the worst has happened (I think). The headache is so bad that is wakes me up. I get up, take another dose of the Rx (I don't realize it at the time, because I have a migraine at 3:30am, but this is the third time in one week that I take the meds - I'm only supposed to have them twice a week) I lay on the couch with an ice-pack waiting for the meds to kick in. Again, nothing. Around 4:30 am, I go back to bed, still with an aching head.

Tuesday - the pain does not let up. It feels like a grappling hook is lodged in my skull, directly above my right eye. Later, it spreads back across my head, so that there is an equally painful grappling hook at the base of my skull, right above my neck. Light is blinding, everything is too loud, and I can smell everything. I try everything. A hot bath, an ice pack, laying down, stretching, deep breathing. I even workout on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes, because sometimes cardio can stop a headache for me. This is excruciating - I'm sure people watching me wondered why some girl was on the elliptical was running with her eyes squeezed shut, gripping her forehead. Nothing worked. I ended up laying several hours on the couch with the ice-pack, which would normally numb even the worst pain, but I can still feel it. I go to bed around 10.

Wednesday morning 1:00am - I wake up with the worst headache pain I have ever felt. The grappling hooks have been joined by a screwdriver that is being ground into my right temple. I consider my options. There won't be anyone there if I call my neurologist's office. If I go the emergency room, I'm not sure what they would do, or if my insurance would pay for it. If I can manage to make it to tomorrow, I would have to find somebody to drive me to doctor. I get up and bring the ice-pack back to bed with me, and start praying, the repetitive half-conscious prayers of the desparate. A half hour later, I realize that the pain has lessened: I begin half-consious prayers of thanksgiving and slide into sleep.

Wednesday: I now have what I believe is a migraine hangover - postdrome. I don't have actual headache pain, but it's like I can still feel a delicate pressure - the barbs of the grappling hooks resting against my skull rather than piercing it. And if I move too quickly, I'm rewarded with a sharp, stabbing pain. I'm still tired. But overall, I feel better. I hope that this is it. I never want to feel that way again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ties for the Guys

I love monograms, and while I wish that my hand-embroidery had the precision of machine-embroidery, I think that these turned out OK. By the way, Ross has great ties at really good prices.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homemade Christmas

A necklace and earrings I made for my mother-in-law. I love these colors. The pearls are a maroon-brown, the larger carved beads are pale earthy shades of cream, jade, and rose, and the round, flat beads are opalescent amber-gold.

New Favorite Salmon Recipe

From Martha Stewart's Cooking School: spray the grilling with Pam, slice lemons and oranges to lay on the grill, and top with bunches of oregano and basil. Lay the cuts of salmon skin-side down, cover liberally with fresh ground pepper and salt. Grill until flakey. We like salmon with baked sweet potatoes. Yummy.

Currently Reading

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke: Reviews promised that it had the whimsy and fantasy of the Harry Potter series, with the comedy of manners-style of Austen. At 700+ pages, it had better be good.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell: I really want to see the movie, but the book looks interesting - I love food memoirs.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose: Extremely readable and voyeuristically entertaining. I heard this guy on NPR. A college student from Brown, he tranfers to Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's school) to do an undercover investigation of the religious divide.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Am I Miserly Liar?

Within the past week, I have been asked on the street by three separate people for "change" or "fifty cents." Each time, I have had fifty cents, but I have shaken my head and said "sorry." I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt each time. It is not that I don't want to give some money - and in other cases, I have given money to people who have asked me. But, in each of these cases, I haven't felt safe. I am walking somewhere, by myself, already gripping my pepper spray in one hand, and I don't feel comfortable coming within arms reach of a strange person on a street corner. What is the moral imperative here? Clearly, as Christians, we are supposed to help people in need. And if you are reduced to asking for change on a street corner, you are clearly in need. I don't know how much of that need fifty-cents will fill, but that is what they have asked for. I still don't know what to do.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Signs of the Season

We put up our tree last night. We have developed a fun routine in which my husband wrestles with the tree for a while, uses one of my serrated knives to hack off the lowest branches, and then bear-hugs it while I decide whether it is straight or not. Then, I get to decorate. We always had an artificial tree growing up because my sister was highly allergic (I actually do remember very early trees - my parents would get trees with root balls and all and then plant them later), but I love live trees. The smell is great, they are beautiful, and unlike some artificials, are soft and won't scratch up your hands. For the past two years, we have bought our trees not far from Marion at Liville River Tree Farm. We pick it out, and Jordan saws it down and throws it over his shoulder.This year, I used those hacked off lower branches for the wreath - it is definitely not perfect, but I think it looks alright, green gift-wrap ribbon and all.
This year, I am really trying to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, as cliche as that sounds. I want to avoid the rabid consumerism that seems to crop up (have you seen any Wal-Mart commercials lately, the ones that feature small children with endless lists of what they want, and parents desparate to meet each desire?). My family (my husband, parents, sister, and brother-in-law, and I) have decided that instead of exchanging gifts, we are going to get tickets to Old Salem, something my mom and sister and I have wanted to do for a long time. But even though family is such an important part of Christmas, I am trying to focus on the fact that this is a religious holiday - it is the celebration of Christ's birth.

Thanksgiving Fun

We had an event-filled Thanksgiving break. The day of, of course, was family time, including family pictures with all of my cousins. This has been a long-standing tradition that will, apparently, never be retired. There are ten of us now, plus two spouses. I am the oldest, the youngest is three. We range in height from my brother-in-law's 6'3'' to the knee-high youngest. And next year, my sister's then six-month-old will be added to the mix! Although, it is a bit chaotic and there is a lot of sun-squinting and giggling and "don't moves" and "quit thats," it's actually not too bad.
Friday, dh and I went bouldering at an indoor gym in Asheville. I am trying to be more involved in his love of climbing. Wednesday, on the way to Marion, we stopped in Gboro and purchased climbing shoes for me. I am still scared - not so much of falling, but of that moment in which you know you are about to fall. And fall I did. But it was fun, all the same. And, apparently, it's a great workout for your triceps - I couldn't lift my arms for the next two days.
Saturday, we biked with his family. This is a project his mom has been talking about since April, so they rented the bikes and we made our way to Black Mountain. Before there was I-40, people had to drive Hwy 70 to make it from Marion to Asheville, a winding, two-lane road. Since they built the interstate, it is no longer in use and has been turned into a bike path. We coasted all the way from Black Mountain to Old Fort, about 3.6 miles, and then rode out to Andrew's Geyser in OF. This was so much fun that I am really thinking about taking up biking.
That evening, we chased the quickly fading light up the mountain for our second annual Christmas tree chopping. Love it. And my car still smells like pine.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What I'm Doing Now

What I am currently reading:
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - again. I loved this book the first time I read it a few years ago, and since I recently picked it up for $1 at the used book store, I am loving it again. It is surprising how much I had forgotten, which is actually a great thing for me - I often mourn that I can only read a book for the first time once. I love the mystery and adventure and history, and all those little details about academia. Fun, fun, curl up under the covers and read fun.

Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson. This one was lent to me by my cousin Jan and it is quite intriguing. A biography of Edward deVere, the "man who was Shakespeare," it asserts that Shakespeare's plays were not written by the glover's son who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and married Anne Hathaway, but Edward deVere, Earl of Oxford. So far, the evidence for this claim has mostly been based on the coincidences from deVere's life that match events from the plays, which is not the most convincing, but it is still early in the book - I am willing to be persuaded.

Fodor's England 2008. Maybe, maybe, there will be a trip this summer. With our fingers crossed and our bank account unravished.

Jane Eyre - still meandering my way through this much-read, much-beloved book. Good stuff.

Movies I Want to See:
New Moon - of course. It looks better done than Twilight - at least the hair does, anyway. Everyone's hair. And the feeling is more epic and grand in scale, it seems. And, as long as they stuck to the book, which the director has been claiming he has at every point, they should be OK.

The Road - I haven't read the book yet, but the film looks fantastic. Viggo Mortenson (one of my favorite actors - it really seems that he becomes the character and you don't have that feeling that you are watching Viggo pretend to be someone, but you are actually seeing that character) and Robert Duvall (a legend, of course) in a post-apocalyptic survival story. It looks gritty and beautiful at the same time - which is think is true of Cormac McCarthy's other writing as well.

The Last Airbender - I will admit, I have seen the cartoon on Nickelodeon, and I will give my attention to almost any anime/manga style thing that comes on, at least for a while. And this looks like a nice, epic, big-budget film, and perhaps M. Night Shamaylan's chance to redeem himself after Lady in the Water and The Happening (which I didn't even bother to see.)

Review: Martha Stewart's Cooking School

I have found a cook book that I really love. Because it it actually a cook book. It is fully illustrated with color pictures, showing how to make things and perform basic recipes. It's not about special versions of things - there's no "Ginger and Carrot Orange Glaze Teriyaki Butterflyed Shrimp and Steak." It tells you how to make steak. Period. It is divided into types of food - meat/fish/poultry, vegetables, grains/beans, desserts; and then, divided into "lessons" on basic methods - how to grill, how to broil, how to steam. There are detailed instructions on how to slice vegetables, separate eggs, carve a turkey, patty out hamburgers - all the instructions that most recipes take for granted. It has basic recipes, such as the one pictured above - chocolate cupcakes. As it turns out, it is almost as easy to bake from scratch as it is from a box. While the concept is extremely simple, I don't think that it is for simple cooks. I know how to cook, of course; so it is not about learning how to cook. I think it is more about learning the foundations of cooking so that you can be more confident, and not rely on store-bought prepped foods. It shows a basic recipe, then variations on it. I made a basic creamy tomato soup from the book that knocked the socks of anything I have had from Campbells. At $45 (I got it on Amazon new for $30) it is a splurge, but definitely worth it. There is nothing faddish about it. It is a reference book, that I have already used far more than any other cook book I own. Highly recommended.

Current Crochet

Here is the afghan that I finished crocheting for my mom. It turned out to be more of a lap afghan, than a full-size blanket, but that's ok. I loved the colors in this pattern - claret, burgundy, and carrot. The warm, autumn colors really made me think of my mom for some reason.

I am now working on a cardigan from a book that I just bought called Blue Print Crochet. Instead of the typical written patterns (ch 6, join, ch 3, 8dc, join with sl st in first ch) it shows a diagram, with symbols that actually resemble the stitches. It took a little bit to get used to, but I actually think it is a much easier way to read a crochet pattern. And the patterns themselves are wonderful. Usually crochet patterns are kind of chunky and dowdy - knitting patterns generally fare better. But these patterns, which are mainly sweaters are gorgeous - delicate and detailed, and, best of all, it looks like a small is actually a small - so no adjusting the size. I am making the Renee Shawl Cardigan in a fabulous bamboo yarn in an aqua color called Ocean Spray. I will post pics when it is done, which shouldn't be too long.

After this, I will either be making a few Christmas gifts, or working on an afghan for the niece or nephew - I found a great pattern with lots of colors in a chunky yarn.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Anyone Remember Thanksgiving?

I love holidays. Almost any holiday. I love decorating and celebrating and cooking. I love Halloween - orange and black and pumpkins and trick-or-treaters and scary movies and candy. And I love Christmas - as I get older I'm definitely trying to eliminate alot of the presents, commercialism, etc. part of it and focus on the hope that this season represents. But there is another holiday between the two. It is called Thanksgiving. And I can't understand why everyone (and by everyone I think I mean major stores) want to skip straight from Halloween to Christmas. I went by Target yesterday and there were white snowflake decals decorating the front doors and a sign saying Merry Christmas. Lowe's already has Christmas trees on display, and at a hardware/produce store in my home time, they already have live trees out for sale. Commercials on TV are already urging people to put their holiday shopping items on layaway. I like holidays. But in the proper order. Thanksgiving is important. To me, anyway. To the marketplace, apparently, it's a minor blip, since there's not really a big push to buy things. I suppose that in order to maintain the proper holiday spirit, I need to stay out of the stores, and turn off the TV. Probably not a bad idea.

I Passed!

I did my orals on Monday. That is possibly the most intense hour and a half I have ever spent. There were definitely some rough points - especially the poets and some questions about my "methodology of history" - I think I babbled for five minutes about "um, the rise of the middle class, and the rise of the novel, you know, intertwined, and um, the middle class, yeah." But towards the end I talked about specific novels and some things I want to do for my dissertation, and I felt much better. And I passed! It was a much bigger relief to have this part done, even more so than when I finished writtens. It is done! I can now move on with my life. Which means the dissertation. Hopefully I'll have a nice draft of the prospectus before too long.

Youth Doing Good Things

Make a Difference Day was a big success! We had five youth to participate, and those kids worked hard! We made forty lunches with eighty sandwiches and then delivered them around our town. I was really impressed with how well the kids worked - we gave each one a job and they did great. They were really excited about it, shouting that they wanted to do this again - a really encouraging revelation since it had kind of felt like pulling teeth to get them to do any service work in the first place. I hope that the next event we do will attract even more of our youth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Our pumpkins this year. I saw a picture in a magazine and decided to try etching pumpkins instead of carving this year. It took me a while to find the right tool, but I ended up using an Excel knife gouge found at Hobby Lobby for $3. It took a long time to do, but I think it turned out all right.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trunk or Treat

I have given the whole "should Christians celebrate Halloween" thing a good bit of thought. I can see arguments from both sides. I think that an article from Christianity Today ( sums it up nicely, and I agree with the author's conclusion - Halloween is what you make it, and I think we should make it about fun, candy, and costumes. There's nothing wrong with spooky stuff, as long as we keep it in the proper perspective - it's funny. Anyway, all of that to introduce our Trunk or Treat night at church last night. Husband and I love having trick or treaters on Halloween, and this year, the church decided to have a Trunk or Treat night, where grown ups decorate their trunks and give out candy to kids in the parking lot. It was a great deal of fun. Husand and I dressed up in costumes ourselves. He wore an apron and rubber gloves and went as a good husband, and I wore rock climbing gear and went as a good wife. Husband also got a big kick out of hiding in the backseat of the car, with the seats unlatched from the back. When kids would stick their hands in the candy bowl he would stick out his hand, seemingly out of nowhere, and grab at the kids (the bigger kids, of course, we didn't want to scare any little ones). It was a great time. I am glad our church has continued our third-Sunday family fun nights, even though we have a pastor again, and I am glad that we were able to incorporate holiday fun into our fellowship night.

Birthday Meal

Husband's birthday was Tuesday, so I wanted to make something extra-special. I have never made steak before, so I decided I would try that. My parents always cook steak on the gas grill - an item that I don't have. I do have a George Foreman-style indoor grill. At the food co-op, I found local, grass-fed filet mignon. I followed Martha Stewart's directions - let the steaks rest at room temperature an hour before grilling, brush the grill with cooking oil, season steaks generously with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I left them far more rare than I usually eat steak - medium well. These were probably more like medium or even medium rare. And delicious. I topped it with thyme compound butter, and finished the meal with roasted thyme potatoes and pear-walnut-cranberry-feta salad. French silk pie served for dessert. Yummy. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it wasn't even my birthday.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Here's what's going on on various fronts in my life:

Work: Now that comps are over, I can devote more attention to the two sections of 101 that I am teaching. Just before comps week I realized that I had concocted an insane schedule that was bound to do me in eventually. So I trashed the expository essay assignment I had given them, revised it and cut it down to two pages. Now, I just have to grade the things. Not fun. I also need to revise the rest of the semester, but make it look like I am competent and know what I am doing, not just freaking out in the middle of the semester. Also, I am going to submit a portfolio for the Eng. Dept. teaching award and I'm going to apply for a dissertation fellowship. Lots of things to get together - like a prospectus and a first chapter of said dissertation.

Church: We finally have a new pastor! This is great news after almost two years and the entire time that the dh and I have been members. He's young and seems really intelligent and enthusiastic, so I have high hopes. The DH and I continue to work with our youth group. We are planning a service outing with them - to make lunches and then deliver them with the Loaves and Fishes food ministry, but it looks like turn out will be less than stellar. Of about twelve kids only two are planning on coming. This is frustrating and discouraging, but, what can you do?

Family: I'm going to be an aunt! I'm still getting used to the idea of my little sister being a mother, but I can't wait for a little niece or nephew - oh the hats and sweaters and booties his or her auntie will crochet! Also, the DH has a birthday tomorrow. I am planning a fancy, schmancy dinner - steak and potatoes, salad, and French Silk pie. I have never made steak before, but I am hoping that it will work out. Pictures should follow.

Headaches: Despite the fact that I have had three headaches in the past four days, I am actually doing a great deal better. In September, I had only six headahces, and in August it was only five. Compared with the ten to twelve headaches I was having each month before that, I think that I have made progress. I think the biggest thing has been eliminating pork altogether (the origin, apparently, of the week-long migraines) but also think that running and eating regularly has helped. There are still some triggers that I can't do much about - the weather or everyone's perfume, but there are still some that I can work on - sleeping better, drinking more water, eliminating some stress.

This isn't nearly all that's going on now, but these are the highlights at least.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fun with Rochester and Jane

I recently, at the strong recommendation of a friend, saw the 2007 BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre. Why I had not seen this sooner is a mystery, but it is wonderful. I had previously seen two versions (the 1997 Zeffirelli version with William Hurt and the 1983 BBC version starring Timothy Dalton) and neither of these greatly impressed me, both, primarily because of the leading men: William Hurt came off as too old, and didn't have that charismatic spark that I believe Rochester has, and Timothy Dalton... I mean, come on, Timothy Dalton? He's too pretty to be Rochester. However, the BBC got it right in 2007 with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. However, the film isn't great just because the casting matches up with my conceptions of the characters. It is surprisingly faithful to the text, both in letter and spirit. Much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book, and every important event is accounted for. Of course, there are a few minor changes: for instance, Rochester hires a gypsy woman and hides behind a screen while she predicts the future for his guests, which isn't accurate, but it must be a bit unsettling to see the leading man actually in drag. At any rate, the film is definitely worth seeing, especially if previous versions left you a bit cold, and even if you enjoyed them, this is still a great adaptation. It must really mean something if I can get choked up watching a story that I know so well, and that makes me want to read the book again - which I am currently doing for at least the fifth time in my life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Comps Week

Yesterday, I took the first part of my comprehensive exams. After reading and studying since February, it is a relief to have this part of my graduate program underway. Now, I just have to make it through parts 2 and 3 on Wednesday and Friday.

I felt pretty good about the questions I got yesterday. I had to answer three out of five, and fortunately, three were ones that I had approximately prepared for. I felt good about the questions while I was answering them - of course, afterward there is the temptation to second-guess - mostly worrying about whether I wrote enough. However, I am trying to minimize that impulse.

Favorite things from comps: Middlemarch by George Eliot and the poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins

Least favorite: Lukacs (did I even spell that right? anyway, he is incomprehensible)

Best strategy advice: start early, make a calendar, read a little bit each day, take notes immediately; also, having the notes of someone who had a similar list is great

Mistakes: taking notes in the book without transfering them to the notebook - you won't remember what the poem is about

Extra advice: don't labor over a text that is just too difficult or boring - you're eating into your time - read enough so that you have an idea of the content and style, then find a summary or someone's notes on it - chances are, you are not going to be asked about that specific text anyway

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some Fair Trade Companies

There are a few companies that are invested in making sure that their products are fairly made. I have found some through internet research and a few were recommended in Timmerman's book. I have not made extensive searches of all of them, but a few seem interesting.

Fair Indigo has a lot of clothes that look like things I would want to wear, ethics aside. The company is based in Wisconsin, and sources from factories around the world. For each item, it tells wear it was made and who made it, guaranteeing that it was made ethically. Many of the factories are family-owned and provide impressive benefits for their workers: a salary well above the local average, paid leave, vacation time, maternity leave, etc. I ordered a sweater from them, and was very pleased with it. Also, their prices seem relatively reasonable, and currently a large portion of their items are on sale.

Patagonia is a company I had heard of previously. They are best known for their outdoor-oriented apparel, although they do make some dressy clothing too. Their prices are high, but the quality is impressive. Their site also includes the "Footprint Chronicles" that "allows you to track the impact of specific Patagonia products from design through delivery." Part of this is the environmental aspect, and part is the ethics of working conditions.

Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) is similar to Patagonia. They are an outdoor equipment company that produces clothing, mostly made in Canada, where the company is based. I was impressed with some performance shirts they had made from the remnants of material in the factories, including the wicking material that is popular in running shirts. These shirts only cost $5 ($4 US) and were made from fabric that otherwise would be thrown away. The only downside to this company is that shipping is rather high and you also have to be the customs fee, since it's being shipped from Canada.

The downside to shopping online is, of course, the environmental impact. It is more fuel efficient to buy from a local store, where goods have been shipped in bulk, rather than having UPS fetch your sweater from Wisconsin and haul it down to NC. However, if our overall purchases are reduced, and we buy sparingly when we need something (I didn't need the sweater, but I'm getting better at distinguishing needs and wants), then perhaps our overall carbon expenditures will be lessened.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: Where am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman

Due to my interest in the clothing industry, I did some online research and came across Kelsey Timmerman's book, Where am I Wearing? A Global Tour of the Countries, Factories, and People that Make Our Clothes. The premise of the book is a quest to track down the origin of each item of Timmerman's typical ensemble: his shirt, underwear, pants, flip-flops, and shorts. His goal is to talk to someone who works in the factory who made the item, someone who could possibly have made it themselves. He wants to get a sense of what that person's life is like. His first trip, to Honduras where his shirt was made, he counts a failure. A fleeting encounter with a garment industry worker named Amilcar makes him realize that he was not fully prepared to truly uncover the gritty details. Subsequent trips to Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China are more successful. In each of these countries, he meets individuals who made his clothes. Or if not his clothes, they make our clothes (in some cases it was impossible to track down the exact factory, or the company moved, closed, or otherwise was inaccessible). The encounters that he has with these individuals are interesting: in some cases, he plays the benefactor - he gives Amilcar the shirt he is wearing, in Bangladesh he takes 20 some street children to an amusement park, in Cambodia, he takes a group of young female garment workers bowling. More often than not, however, they seem to be his benefactors - they cook for him, let him stay in their homes, teach him about their culture and country. In each case, they provide him access to information that he could not have otherwise obtained.

The conditions he encounters range. In Bangladesh, child labor exists, but, often it is a better alternative than what the children may be doing otherwise. In fact, many children indicated that they wanted to work, needed to work in the factories. They will be working somewhere - a labor-free childhood is not possible in their economy, and the factory jobs are often safer and more lucrative than selling flowers on the street or begging. In Cambodia, he realized that by most world standards the conditions for workers there were relatively good. Many workers had contracts, but they were often exploited by labor sharks in order to get them. Many of the workers were young women from villages, who left their family farms in order to work in the city. A significant portion of their earnings were sent back to the families, although the women themselves were only able to return for visits twice a year. Regardless, contributing to their family income is a priority. In China, he met a couple who had left their 13 year old son with his grandfather in their village so they could work in a shoe factory in the city. Although at first the couple recites to Timmerman the regulation hours they work in a day - between 9 and 12. Later, after they realize he is not a customer for the factory, they reveal the truth. They work between 80 and 100 hours a week, seven days a week. They are often forced to work off the clock, providing free labor. Complaints would lose them their jobs.

Timmerman's account of his travels is intriguing. He is not an activist. In fact, he makes fun of the die-hard American activists who perform die-ins (where they pretend to be corpses in order to gain the attention of lookers-on) and who chant slogans like "Diet, cherry , or vanilla, Coca-Cola is a killa." Timmerman doesn't see these tactics creating much change. On the other hand, Timmerman himself doesn't offer any earth-shattering new solutions himself. He makes the point that boy-cotting a company for human rights violations of its factory workers doesn't help the workers. Often they lose their jobs and are left worse off than they were before. He urges awareness: know where your clothes are made; and he recommends several companies that are fair-trade.

Timmerman's work is useful for its balanced view on the garment industry. He makes it clear that he had no particular agenda for his quest. His reporting puts a human face the industry that is not over-sentimentalized, but feels authentic and personal. He is able to put these workers in a context of their economies and national histories. Ultimately, Timmerman advocates, not guilt - which seems inevitable when we compare our wealth and resources with those who make our clothes - but awareness and compassion.

Personal Bests

This has been a couple of days of personal bests in running for me. Monday I ran my best 2.1 miles - 23:48, and today I ran my best 1 mile - 8:59. These are probably not very impressive to anyone who has been running seriously, but they are good for me. When I began running in February, I couldn't make it all the way around my apartment complex. Now I love running. I went running everyday that I was on vacation, and I run at least three times a week now. I have had many fewer migraines, and I feel good. Running could be the best anti-depressant available.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Who Are You Wearing?

I have recently made some choices about how I spend money. These decisions have been influenced by a number of things - my growing interest in sustainable eating (local, organic); reading Jesus for President (I don't agree with everything in the book, but their point about the marketplace is well taken); generally becoming more aware of the global condition through reading books like Enrique's Journey.

I remember exactly how I became aware of sweat-shops. In eighth grade, the special news program that was provided for our classes, Channel 1, had a story on sweat-shops. However, the focus was on Nike shoes (which I couldn't afford) and soccer balls (which I never played with), and the message that Americans were enjoying goods at the expense of children in other countries didn't exactly sink in.

Several months ago, I read a book called The Wal-Mart Effect, which was interesting if confusing (the author's position seemed a bit vague); in it, the author details how Wal-Mart has shaped the American economy and how business is done - the idea is to go to any lengths to purchase goods as cheaply as possible - which sounds good for American shoppers: that's why we can buy T-shirts for $4.99 and underwear in packs of 10. The person it is not so good for is the worker who makes those cheap products. In the book, the author tells the story of a woman who worked in a sweat-shop that made blue jeans to be sold to Wal-Mart. The conditions were horrible - she was not making a living wage, and the quota of jeans demanded of her meant that she worked many hours without breaks. In one horrible anecdote, she told of how a cruel boss was dissatisfied with her work, so he ripped the jeans from her sewing machine and beat her with them. It is entirely possible that this story was exaggerated or fabricated. Perhaps I am the naive reader of sensationalized tales of woe. But the thought that the very jeans I was wearing had at some point been used to beat the person who made them was nauseating.

I have to confess that, although this book changed my thinking, it did not change my habits. I did stop shopping at Wal-Mart, but I continued to buy from Target and other retailers, knowing that their practices, although enabled by Wal-Mart, are no better. I want this to change. I currently have more clothes in my closet than some people will ever see in their lifetime.

I feel that this is particularly important for Christians to consider. How can we claim to love everybody and desire to show that love if we continue to turn a blind eye to practices that so diminish the quality of life of those people? I am afraid that we have made frugality into a cardinal virtue in the church. It seems so very American, so very patriotic in a way, so very good to always be on the look out for the best deal, to get as much as we can for as little as we can. We call this frugality, thriftiness, and conservatism without recognizing that it is the grossest form of indulgence and excess. I hear so many people who say with such pride - "I only shop at Wal-mart - you can find anything there cheaper than anywhere else." (Isn't there a country song with a verse along those lines?) The implication is that we who shop cheaply are smarter and better - we are the salt of the earth. The hard-working, American, blue collar, traditional values kind of people. What isn't being considered is that someone else is paying for our ability to buy cheap.

At first after reading and thinking a bit, I felt faced with a rather bleak prospect. Capitalism seems an inevitable evil. The only option looked like some type of live off the grid, churn your own butter, commune. And I'm not saying that that's still not the best option. But it is not one that I am willing or able to attain at this point. Rather, I am trying to initiate steps in the right direction. I have all the clothes I need. And that stings a bit. I love buying clothes, I love clothes in general (I'm writing a dissertation on dress, you know). But I have enough clothes. When I find that there is something I need, I plan to try to buy second-hand first. Recycling clothing in this way keeps more money from being spent on unfair labor and it keeps perfectly usable materials from going to the landfill. If I can't buy second-hand, I plan to look for retailers that have been certified as practicing fair-trade - and from a cursory glance at the internet, it looks like there are plenty of options out there.

This will no doubt be hard. I know that possibly in just a few weeks, I will be standing in Target gazing longingly at a pretty dress that only costs $25. Or my sister will want to go on a shopping trip and I'll be faced with the prospect of following her from store to store empty-handed. But this is important. Not that anyone ever asks (I walk so few red carpets), but if they did want to know who I was wearing, I would be able to answer that I was not wearing the underprivileged women and children of the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Domestic Vampires: Domesticity in Twilight Part 1

I had planned to respond to a CFP that I was forwarded about Twilight. I had come up with an argument and taken several notes. But then, when I went to write the proposal, I realized that what I wanted to write about would not fit with what the editors wanted (youth, media, culture studies). I, of course, am interested in the domestic aspects of the novel (among other things), and since I won't be writing a chapter for a book (sigh), I am posting my ideas here.

I came across an article in the December 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly about Twilight called "What Girls Want" by Caitlin Flanagan in which she discusses the phenomenon of the series, their immense popularity, and their appeal for older readers like herself (and me!) In an almost throw-away comment, imbedded in a parenthetical aside she writes

"Bella is an old-fashioned heroine: bookish, smart, brave, considerate of other's feelings and naturally competent in the domestic arts (she immediately takes over the grocery shopping and cooking in her father's household, and there are countless weirdly compelling accounts of her putting dinner together - wrapping two potatoes in foil and popping them in a hot oven, marinating a steak, making a green salad...)" (112). (emphasis mine)

Bella is a domestic heroine, in an age in which domesticity has fallen out of favor. My argument is that the Twilight series may be read as a parable that re-inscribes nineteenth-century domestic ideology. If domestic fiction imagines the home as the acme of human bliss, then Meyer's work imagines that bliss to occur between the perfect, hyper-masculine (but ever-so sensitive) vampire Edward and the brave, smart, and domestic Bella.

Bella's domestic abilities make her oddly suited to be a Cullen and a vampire. The Cullen family is a model of old-fashioned domesticity - they are necessarily bound as a family and tied to their house, since each foray into the outside world is a risk of exposure. In Meyer's 5th addition to the series Midnight Sun, an early draft of which was leaked onto the internet, followed by Meyer posting an official pdf, a description of the Cullen family paints a picture of domestic leisure: Emmett and Jasper play an elaborate version of chess, Alice works on a design project for Rosalie's wardrobe, Rosalie herself tunes up her car, Esme "hums over a new set of blue prints," and Edward himself composes Bella's lullaby at the piano. An updated, modern image of the middle class domestic family at rest, gathered around the fire with their individual pursuits: reading, games, sewing, etc.

Clearly, there is more to say here, but I will leave that to a later post.... Comment! Please!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Domesticity and the Drapers: Gender Roles on Mad Men

Having recently watched the first season of AMC's Mad Men, I am interested in this look at domesticity in 1961. I think that it is falling into the old party lines of domesticity as entrapment. Betty Draper, the perky but depressed wife of main character Don Draper, is meant to embody the feminine ideal of the era. A blond, Grace Kelly-type, she attempts to perform the type of domesticity that it represented in those period Coca-Cola ads (which she models for in one episode). Betty is unquestionably domestic. She cooks - roasts, steaks, salads, and cakes. She cares for her children - the angelic girl, whom she is trying to make over in her own image, fretting about her weight and face, and the little boy who is too young to have much personality, apparently. Don tells her that her job, which she is better at than anyone else, is to take care of the children. But, this is clearly meant to be an empty consolation. Although Betty clearly tries to believe this, she obviously feels like she is missing out on something - her modeling career, the admiration that she could garner as a public woman in Manhatten, rather than the hidden housewife in the suburbs.

Betty is depressed, a diagnosis both she and her husband are reluctant to face. Her therapist is dismissive of her fears - her petty concerns which he labels as immature and childish - the neuroses of a housewife. The rhetorical position of the show seems to lead the reader to conclude that the root cause of Betty's depression is her trapped existence. Her life is shockingly empty, and although she is ostensibly the primary care-giver to her children, they are often with the maid or with a neighbor, and Betty is often shown sitting alone at her dining room table, a cigarette in one hand and a wine glass in the other. She is alone and she has nothing to do. Clearly the fate of all domestic women everywhere.

It seems frighteningly rare to see a positive image of female domesticity. Certainly, a woman should not be prevented from leading her own career, but the message seems to be that a full and active life and a concern for management of home and family are mutually exclusive. Betty's brief attempt at balancing her role as housewife and model fails. But not because she can't manage it - the worst that happens is Don gets a cold sandwich instead of baked ham for supper - but because she gives it up a the first rejection. Perhaps her problem is that in both roles, she is not seeking her own happiness, but rather the approval of others: that of her husband and the readers of Life.

Obviously, a complicated situation, made even more complicated by the show's attempt to accurately represent the problems faced by women on the cusp of first wave feminism. Have we reached an appropriate balance now? While women are now encouraged to follow any career they choose - a great and good gain, I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung too far in the other direction, and we have been conditioned to see domesticity as a trap. The issue of balance is also problematic, because it pushes women to attempt to be superwomen, juggling everything with perfect grace and ease, an often impossible task. How do we reconcile the two - without pushing ourselves to the brink?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Defining Domesticity

The term domesticity hardly seems to need defining. It is not commonly used in everyday parlance, but can quickly be intentified as a derivative of "domestic," which is rather more commonly used. People talk about "being domestic" as in "I am going to be domestic this weekend and do some laundry." On the other end, domesticity as a concept and lifestyle seems to have been assigned solely to stay at home mothers and Martha Stewart disciples. Certainly, there is more to it than this.

Domesticity has a historical context. In the nineteenth century, domesticity was seen as the realm of middle and upper class white women in Britain and America. It indicated wifehood and motherhood as the management of the home as the role for women. Clearly, today, this is problematic, and helps to explain the knee-jerk reaction that many people have when they hear the term domesticity, equating it with oppression and sexism. As Nina Baym says in Woman's Fiction, "domesticity is equated with entrapment" (26). This short-changes the concept of home and family and how women can relate to them. In the nineteenth century, domestic fiction was actually empowering. Prior to the emergence of the genre, most fiction about female characters followed a common plot, one in which women were invariable made into victims; sentimental fiction or novels of sensibility focused on women who were innately good and pious but who are somehow abused, betrayed, seduced, and abandoned. While these novels were perhaps useful in illuminating the plight of women, the fates of these female characters was less than inspiring, usually involving insanity, death, or insanity and then death. In the best cases, the woman was able to reform the rake who was attempting to seduce her, although this makes for questionable husband-material (see Richardson's Pamela).

Domestic fiction, on the other hand, written by women, refused to imagine women as victims. These writers "were unwilling to accept, and unwilling to permit their readers to accept, a concept of woman as inevitable sexual prey" (26). Instead, women had power over the home, and the home was the center of the world. The domestic arrangement and the happy home was the "acme of human bliss." While domestic fiction is often linked to the concept of separate spheres, such a term is perhaps misleading. The home is not cordoned away from the "real world" of the market and public interactions, but instead "everybody was to be placed in the home, and hence, home and the world would become one." This has significant implications for female power: "to the extent that woman dominated the home, the ideology implied an unprecedented historical expansion of her influence" (27).

How does this function today? Do we see domesticity as oppressive? or is there something still empowering in domesticity? In a post-feminist society, does the concept of the domestic world raise hackles or are we seeing an increasing return to home as people become disenchanted with the public realm?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seeds of the Recession

According to John Laumer at Tree Hugger seed sales are up 19% in 2009. Clearly, this is largely due to economic issues: money is tight and people are concerned and looking for ways to save some money. And, certainly the food prices that rocketed last summer in the wake of soaring gas prices are still on consumers' minds. Although fears surrounding the recession are not good, the fact that many people are turning to traditional food sources is great. And they are growing real food - as far as I know, there are no seeds for Doritoes and Twinkies. Chemical free tomatoes and peppers are being grown on people's patios, and some people I know are digging up their lawns.

I was offered a few rows in a friend's garden, but after some thought and planning, I have had to decline. Although I would much prefer land and gardening on a larger scale, my time budget is going to confine me to some container gardening. So far, I am feeling a bit stressed because I have nothing planted yet, but I am planning on getting started soon. I am planning on growing lettuce, tomatoes, squash, and some potatoes, and maybe some peppers - things that we eat a lot of. I'm also planning on some herbs to accompany my poor mistreated oregano and lavender and maybe some flowers, just for fun. I grew zinnias at the end of last summer, and enjoyed them.

So, I want to hear about it. Has the economy prompted you to consider some home gardening? Are you digging up the yard? Buying containers? What are you tips and tricks for growing your own on a limited budget?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Half-Shell Bag

Although I love the Vera Bradley bag that my sister gave me for Christmas a year ago, I wanted something a little smaller to carry every now and again. I looked at my usual stores: TJ Maxx and Target, and found several contenders, but none seemed just right and I couldn’t justify paying $14 when I didn’t really need a new bag. So, instead I worked this up. The idea came from a pattern for a bag on I had planned to make it, but decided it would be quicker to crochet instead. I used the half-shell pattern, and then added a border in single-stitch and handles, and lined the bag with some excess fabric. I also made pockets in the lining for my cell phone and sunglasses, which always seem to get lost in the bottom of a bag. I took only a few hours and cost nothing, since I used left over yarn and fabric. Here are the instructions for the half-shell (courtesy of NE, a couple of years ago =)
Crochet chain in multiple of four
*Single crochet in fourth chain from hook
Chain three, and dc three times in same hole as first single crochet
Repeat from * across
Turn and repeat

Super Easy Meals Part 3

My husband and I don’t eat as much meat as we once did, but occasionally we like to have a traditional Sunday lunch. I have borrowed another recipe from my mom – crock-pot pork chops. Pork chops are a common entrée in the south (in the town where my sister now lives, you can even get a pork chop sandwich), and there are a variety of ways they can be fixed – baked, grilled, or even (gulp) fried. Most of these methods, however, can lead to a very tough, chewy pork chop rather quickly. And they take time. My favorite method is to just place the chops (actually, they aren’t really chops, they are the boneless thin pork medallions) in the crock pot and pour in a can of chicken broth. Cook on high for four hours. This is almost no work, but the pork comes out very tender (you can cut if with the side of your fork). For this meal, I paired the chops with green beans (just canned, seasoned with salt and pepper and some of the broth from the crock-pot). I also wanted something like stuffing, but decided to use couscous instead. With the whole-wheat version, it cooks up very quickly, and I seasoned it with salt and pepper and sage and some of the broth from the crock-pot.

Super Easy Meals Part 2

My family has long been fans of Mexican food, although, of course, this is not authentic Mexican fare. It is not even Tex-Mex, but instead, what I call Mamma-Mex – dishes that my mom has put together (Still, every time we go home we ask her to make Taco Salad). One of my favorite Mexican dishes that is really easy is quesadillas. These are quite versatile and can be made with a variety of ingredients. The ones pictured feature corn and black beans (always a winning combination) along with cumin and tumeric (which are super good-for-you cancer fighters). Other quesadillas might contain cooked chicken or ground beef. Here are the basic ingredients and procedures:

3 whole wheat tortillas
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salsa
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salsa and sour cream to taste

Combine the mayo, chili powder and 1 teaspoon salsa and spread on half of each tortilla. The layer chicken and cheese on top. Fold the tortilla in half. Spray a sauté pan with cooking spray and heat each quesadilla on medium heat, then flip to the other side. The tortilla becomes crispy and brown when it is done. Cut the folded tortillas into triangles and serve with salsa and sour cream.

Location, Location, Location

I have a problem with reading. I can’t seem to do it while I am at home. Other things get into the way. Like the fact that I need to do laundry. Or perhaps I should work on my much neglected blog. Or maybe just sit on the couch and watch TV. So, out of desperation, I have begun doing my reading in the library. It seems like such an obvious thing, but for some reason I had always done my reading at home. Now, I can confine my work to a few hours, spent in the library, where I can focus entirely, free from distractions. The only problem I have encountered so far is that I need to read poems out loud to understand them, which is kind of hard to do in the library… So, any thoughts on the best locations for getting work done?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Super Easy Meals Part 1

Barbeque is a big deal in this state, with various regions championing their own particular concoctions and methods. Being a mountain girl, I can appreciate the “Down East” vinegar based bbq, but still prefer the tomato based flavors of home. Actually, I don’t think that mountain bbq is so much about tomatoes, as it is about sweetness. We love a brown sugar, honey, molasses sweet taste (I have found this to be in true in other areas – my family puts butter and sugar on not only grits, but rice as well).
Barbeque is surprisingly easy to make. Of course, I’m not talking about slow-roasting over a pit barbeque, but you can get quite good results with a crock-pot. And you only need two things: pork tenderloin and your choice of barbeque sauce. Put the loin in the crock-pot and cover with a good bit of sauce, cook on high for about four hours. By that time, the meat will be falling about and sooo tender. All you have to do is tear it up, shred it a bit with some forks. We like to fix this for Sunday afternoon. We come in from church and the smell greets us at the door. Traditionally (at least for us) barbeque is served with slaw – chop up some cabbage and shred some carrots, mix up with just a bit of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Finish off the meal with some French fries.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Be Careful What You Ask

I just had my watch battery replaced - for the fourth time this year. This time I actually took it to a jeweler, but he couldn't find anything wrong with it, so the battery is replaced and working for now. I have heard before that some people can't wear watches because the electricity in their body is off and causes them to run down (I heard this from the watch-battery-replacer at Wal-Mart, and I am pretty sure that I had also heard it in a family-sitting-around-telling-weird-phenomena-stories context).

Anyway, so I am also currently reading a book about migraines, and it mentioned briefly that
migraineurs experience "abnormal electrical activity" in the brain. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure that my batteries started dieing a few months after I started getting headaches.

So I do some Google searches for "migraine and dead watch battery." I find one website written by a 16 yo girl who thinks she is psychic because of her migraines and electrical phenomena. Then, I find a Yahoo answers forum. The asker wants to know what's up with her friend whose watch batteries die and blows out light bulbs (I've blown out the bulb in the lamp in my office twice this semester, but I think its probably just a short). Anyway, the answers she got ranged from crazy to psycho. I don't know how to read these. Are people serious? Are they being sarcastic?

Here's one: "Your friends electro-magnetic fields are out of whack. What you need to do is on a daily basis pray for her, with her. Lay a hand on her shoulder or wrist and command her electromagnetic fields to line up and become normal in the name of Jesus. This may need to be done on a daily basis until she sees results and asks Jesus to come into her life."

Faith healing over dead watch batteries?! This can't be serious - "become normal in the name of Jesus"!

Then, there was this one: "I can't go into the specific reasons why, but for the safety of you and your friend it may not be wise to talk about this online. If the govermental agencies that are responsible for your friend's "abilities" aren't already monitoring her, they probably are now. Be safe, be discreet and remember: Tinfoil helps...a lot."

That's a joke...right?

Anyway, just a bit a fun...or maybe I am psychic and being monitored by the government.

Knitting Bits

I finished the first little bird bag – I think I’m going to add an outline of embroidery in white – the blue doesn’t show up as well as I would like – and I’ve started another using the same pattern. This time I’m using an ella rae yarn (100% wool) and it’s in a muted teal color that sometimes looks more gray. I love it. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the mohair. The last bag came out rather fuzzy, but still a success. I messed up the gusset, and the bottom is out of line with the top, but it still works, and is still giftable I think.

The next project will be a tote bag in Shetland lace (Brighton patter on It is knit in the round, something I haven’t mastered yet, and calls for linen yarn. I’m using elsebeth lavold in hempathy, a blend of hemp, cotton, and modal (what is modal? These textiles are tripping me up). The color is not exciting – a plain beige – but the pattern should be the real attraction. I’m sure the lady at the yarn shop was crazy because I would pick up one color and carry it around, and then switch it out for another. I hope I got enough, because I plan to make it a bit smaller than the pattern (which is very long and would come below my knees when I carried it).

The Meal Deal

Planning the meals for the week always takes me an inordinate amount of time – we’re talking hours. So in an effort to simplify things, I have assigned each night of the week and different type of dish – Sunday is slow cooker night (necessary because we come in from church starving and it is nice to have something already ready), Monday is new dish night, Tuesday is Mexican, Wednesday is Italian/Mediterranean, Thursday is Asian, Friday is fish, and Saturday is pizza. This is much simpler because I have several recipes for each category, and this way I can be sure not to fix the same thing every night of the week, or spend too much time racking my brain.

Last night was, of course, Asian, so I fixed stir-fry. Lately everything I fix has started with sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil. I added this to the stir fry, along with diced chicken, mushrooms, fresh minced ginger, a frozen vegetable mix that included edamame (sp?), the noodles, red pepper flakes, and an Asian Sesame dressing. Pretty good, and pretty easy.

I also got a new pan – the lovely red number in the picture. I need a bigger pan to do stir-frys and such so that everything can fit in it. The one I had before was a Teflon deal that got scratched, and since I am doing everything I can not to get cancer or send my kidneys into shut-down mode, out it went. This new one is great, because it has enough volume upwards, but the base is not so big that it is hanging out over the burner. Best of all, it’s a quality pan made with green materials, that only cost $13 at T.J. Maxx. Love that store. So any tips on how you simplify meal-planning? Anyone else have Asian Thursdays, or other standardized plans?

Home Made Bread

In stark contrast to my recent experience in gluten-free eating, I am now the proud owner of a bread machine. The new toy I got for Christmas is fun and easy. I made bread the old-fashioned way, and let me tell you, it is tough. Ingredients have to be the right temperature and mixed in certain orders and for long periods of time. Making one loaf of bread literally took all day, what with kneading and rising, and punching down and rising again, and then finally baking. The bread machine pretty much does all the work. You put the ingredients in (in the right order) turn it on, set it, and it churns away for a few hours and you come out with a loaf of bread. Take that Sara Lee. The whole wheat bread recipe that came with the machine turned out a little bland, but I think the next round will be better. The texture is great though, soft with a chewy crust. Although I think hand-made is still the ultimate in bread, the bread machine is a close second, and a whole lot more likely to happen.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year

I am one of those people who love New Years. I love new beginnings: a new month, a new school year, even a new week. I love that things are always fresh and unspoiled, but also that time passes in a spiral, we are always coming back to moments and traditions we have encountered before. I love the sense of everyone resolving to change, to improve, to get organized and do better, to be healthier or smarter or kinder. (I think this is related to my love of training montages in movies – upbeat music, cut scenes of the character working hard and getting their life together).

I am eternally optimistic about what I can do at the new year. I have not yet nailed down my specific resolutions; and while they will likely include things like less sugar, more yoga, what I really want is to become stronger, not physically, but spiritually.

This is the first year that my Christmas cactuses have bloomed since I have had them. When I was in college I wrote a poem about them for a class I was taking:

Green flats of puzzle pieces
Shoot linearly, up and out,
The new jigsaws
Lighter than the others,
The promise of blossoms
To appear on winter days.

These are the cuttings of
My mother’s cactuses
Which sit in regal pairs,
The cuttings of my grandmother’s
Cactuses, congregating on
Low sun-lit tables,
The cuttings of my great-grandmother’s
Cactuses, which must have
Brightened the old farm house.

A pair now sit in my
Northern window,
Full of the dignity of
Living heirlooms. ©

I have always loved the thought of the connection I have to my mother, her mother, her mother through these plants. And now they have bloomed for the first time for me. This seems to be a perfect symbol for this moment. Perched on the edge of a new year – a new beginning, but still part of the continuous cycle of time and renewal. My cactuses have bloomed. May I do so also.

Little Bird Bag

Now that I have finished the afghan for my brother-in-law, I am starting a new project. I found a very cute bag on ( and I am currently working on it. It shouldn’t take too long, despite my less than perfect knitting skills. Crochet is easier, but there are so many things you can do with knitting, I would like to be better at it. I also found a new store to buy yarn. Since I have given up on Wal-Mart, I found a store nearby that has a large variety of quality yarn – which means shelling out more for it, but, I think it’s worth it. The yarn is great, the selection is great, the lady who works in the store is very helpful, and its local, not an evil corporation. I like it. Yay for the Hillsborough Yarn Shop. For this project, I’m using Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride in Cranberry Swirl, a bright reddish pink with a slight variegation, 85% wool and 15% mohair (what is mohair, anyway? I need to look it up). Anyway, I will be making a foray into felting as well. This may end up as a Christmas gift, and if it works out, I may try another with gray yarn and red embroidery.

Dress Remix

Being small means that a lot of my clothes don’t fit when I buy them. And being financially limited means that I don’t take them to a tailor. I do a lot of alterations myself. My most recent was not necessarily a fit issue. I have had this dress for almost ten years, and only wore it once. I received a lot of compliments on it, but I felt that all the material was a little overwhelming, and looked rather sack-like on my frame. I needed a black dress for our choir’s Christmas cantata, so voila – I pulled this one out and hemmed it. Really hemmed it. I added a sash that I already owned to cinch the waist a bit, and it rather worked. Not a huge deal of work – just hack the bottom 12 inches off and sew a hem with the sewing machine, but I think it turned out well.