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.