Monday, June 29, 2015

Some Thoughts on Poldark

I was really predisposed to like the new incarnation of Poldark currently airing on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.  I have never seen the original, nor read the book(s?), but, judging from the previews and the bit I heard from period-piece lovers who remembered the version from the 70s, I was excited about a sweeping romance, set in 18th century Cornwall, starring a dark and brooding hero.

I have seen the first two episodes, and although I'll continue to watch, probably, I have to say, I am not as impressed as I expected to be.  Cornwall is, of course, absolutely gorgeous.  Jordan and I visited Cornwall on our trip to England several years ago, and it is breathtaking--literally, we gasped when we got out of the car and saw where we were.  But the show seems to be dragging a bit.  I'm not quite sure that I can define what it is that's missing for me.  The plot seems promising: handsome Ross Poldark returns from war to his native Cornwall to find that his girlfriend Elizabeth is marrying his cousin and that his father has died, leaving behind debts, barren fields and an unproductive mine.  Despite well-meant(?) advice to pack up and leave, Poldark is determined to revive his family's fortunes through hard work and will-power.  Ok, I'm on board with the whole "making the mines work and the farm produce" narrative, but the romance aspect of the story seems...weird.  She married your cousin.  What are you going to do about it?  It's a little too late to change her mind.  So, that leaves either adultery or perhaps an early death for dear cousin Francis--neither of these plot developments sound particularly appealing to me.  And let me just draw this out a bit more--why are both of these options problematic?  I have to say, I am just tired of the way that infidelity is portrayed in so many films and shows--as unfortunate but excusable if it's a case of true love.  Nope.  It's just wrong.  And boring.  How would this play out? "Oh, no we mustn't do that" (but they do); "Oh, how can I live with myself?" (but she can); "What if we are found out?" (and they are).  It's predictable.  And, if we kill off Francis, isn't that just too easy?  I guess Ross would have to marry her then.  And, by the way, Elizabeth hardly seems an appealing person, unless all you care about is tumbling curls and luscious lips. 

An alternative would be to have Ross fall in love with someone else.  I thought initially that this might be Verity, Francis's sister (and also Ross's cousin), but it appears not to be.  For one thing, I forget that although cousins marrying each other was normal (and even sometimes expected) in the 18th and 19th century, I don't suppose it's going to form a major plot point in a contemporary work (I've read way too many Victorian novels).  And, perhaps more problematic, Verity is plain and pleasant.  Unsuitable as a romantic heroine.  So, apparently it's to be Demelza, the spunky, impoverished kitchen maid who owns a dog but no cloak is absolutely gorgeous beneath the layers of dirt and ill-fitting clothes.  I expect a full-blown Eliza Doolittle treatment very soon.

A few other things: what in the world are we supposed to make of Punch and Judy?  I mean Jud and Prudie, Poldark's servants.  We are introduced to them snoring in their deceased master's bed surrounded by unaccountable filth.  Poldark is stern with them, but keeps them on as they were his father's "friends."  They are lazy, cruel, and conniving, drinking on the sly at any opportunity.  Jud seems perhaps to be redeemable, as he leads a charge in Ross's defense, and he does get a few good lines in, (a repeated mantra of "tin't fair, tin't fit....") but what are they doing in the story?  Comedic relief?  Demonstrating Poldark's kindness and loyalty?  I suspect, with some distress, that what they are actually doing is to demonstrate how dirty and lazy the lower classes are.  Just as Ruth Teague and her mother are there to show how title-hungry and vapid upper-class ladies are, and just as Warleggan is there to show how the rising middle-class is long on money (and ways of getting more money), and short on principles.  Stereotypes all around.

I have hope for the show.  I am ready for the Elizabeth drama to be put to rest, since, as far as I can see, that's a closed door (and one that I can't really see why he would want opened anyway).  Let's get on to bringing the family fortunes around.  In short, more mining, less whining. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sweater Regeneration

I loved this pattern (Amy Herzog's "Jackaroo" on Knitty First Fall 2013). It is hard for me to find ready-to-wear sweaters that fit well, let alone knitting patterns that result in fitted garments, but this one, with all of the increases and decreases, and the super specific measurements, and multiplicity of size options, resulted in a perfect fit.

There are some things that I would like to fix. The pockets are slightly off-kilter, and the button band needs some kind of support to keep it from getting pulled out of shape. And, in the future, I need to learn a neater cast-on. This one looks rather sloppy.

The yarn came from an old sweater--I've never deconstructed a store bought sweater, and it was definitely an experience--a long, fuzzy experience.  The sweater itself was fine.  I bought it a few years ago, and I love the gray tweed with tiny flecks of pink, blue, and yellow.  The problem is that it is a turtleneck pullover, which means that I am constantly pulling it away from my throat as though it were a noose.  I used to be able to wear turtle necks, but then whatever curse affects most of the women in my family took over and I just can't handle them anymore.
So, a cardigan is a much better option.

Below is the original sweater.

I wound the yarn around my laundry drying rack, after measuring the circumference so that I could basically keep up with how many yards I was getting.  I was afraid it was going to be a close shave, but I ended up with quite a bit leftover

Below are the hanks the sweater yielded.

Overall, knitting the sweater wasn't hard--just lots of increases and decreases to get all that shaping.  Set-in sleeves, which weren't too hard.  The neatest thing I learned was mattress stitch.  It seems excessively geeky to get excited about sewing seams, but mattress stitch seems almost miraculous--just watch the video:

It's almost worth knitting sweaters just to sew up the seams!

Building Blocks Hat

My little guy needed a new hat for this winter, and I improvised the design--the first time I've done so with a knitting project.  It is incredibly basic--just a bit of ribbing, then a checkerboard pattern, with decreases to the top, with a pom-pom--somehow, baby hats always need a pom-pom.  I wrote the pattern out and put it in a PDF to put on Ravelry.  Check it out.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Project Mania

Projects have recently taken over my life.  I think I am trying to do absolutely everything I have ever wanted to do before I have to start teaching again.  So, making things has been the name of the game during Nathan's nap-times.  The list is something like: one skirt, one baby toy, three wreaths, one loaf of Victorian Milk Bread, 10 half-pints of strawberry freezer jam, two dozen peanut butter sandwich cookies with marshmallow cream, and five pounds of potato salad.  I planted some lettuce, a tomato, and a squash plant.  Signed up for VBS (the missions rotation for the elementary kids).  Currently about to go out of town for Mother's Day.  Joined a church.  Yeah, so busy.

Sometimes, when I get craft projects in mind, I can't think about anything else.  I'm not interested in eating, bathing, or generally living, until I get it finished.  Add to that the stress and general discombobulation I feel when my house is out of order, which it inevitably is when I have a project going, particularly a sewing project, and I have a deep desire to fly through the process, just so I can then clean everything up!

Nathan has been busy too.  He has cut two teeth, learned to roll from his back to his stomach, and started sleeping through the nights most nights.  He is funny about rolling over--he can get onto his stomach, but can't roll back onto his back, and doesn't particularly like being on his stomach, so he rolls over and then fusses until we rescue him.  A turtle on its shell, but in reverse!  I love this boy!

The peanut butter cookies are very good (and happen to be gluten- and dairy-free).  I am taking them (along with an obscene amount of potato salad) to a cookout with my family on Mother's Day, and allowed Jordan and myself to sample only one each.  I am hoping the rest survive the trip!  We are planning to stay a few days, spend time with the family, and do some hiking (and Jordan plans for some climbing/bouldering, too).  Should be a nice adventure.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter Things

Easter was lovely.  I spent the Thursday before baking Hot Cross Buns, but they didn't turn out quite like I expected--more dense, like a bagel.  I will tweak the recipe a bit for next year.  While I baked I had the film Chocolat on in the background, which was seasonally appropriate.  I also dyed eggs that day, using a plain Paas kit that was on sale at CVS.  I always like to see the "imperfections" in the dying--the whirls and splotches, that I think are more beautiful than most things you would purposely do.  Nathan's little Easter basket didn't have any candy in it this year, but he did get some new pacifiers and plastic link toys, which he has been enjoying very much.  

My skirt came out nicely.  It has box pleats and pockets and a lining, and I will be making more.  We spent Easter weekend back home with our families, passing Nathan from one grandparent to the next.  Sunday morning was church, and then dinner at my grandmother's.

The week has been nice, but not very productive. Jordan and I have been catching up on past seasons of Mad Men, which we had not seen in a very long time.  That show is depressing and funny and provocative.  

We had doctor's appointments on Wednesday, where we found out that Nathan is indeed a big boy, in the 98th percentile for height.  Afterwards, I stopped in at JoAnne's Fabrics where Nathan very sweetly napped and let me wander around for a very long time.  I ended up getting a fat quarter of fabric, some jingle bells, and jump rings to make a mobile for him.  I also bought pinking shears, a purchase I had to agonize over a bit, since they were shockingly expensive, but, like my mom said, I'll have them for the rest of my life.

Today, I attempted to jump back on the productivity wagon.  I stopped at a local store to get some fresh strawberries.  Oh my goodness.  Nothing like the kind from California that you get in the grocery store.  These will mostly become freezer jam, and the rest will probably be eaten out right.  I also got in some work time, editing the course I am teaching online this summer.

All in all, a good week, but I can't believe how fast the days are going.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Spring is here for real, now.  The flip flops have appeared and I have gone bare-legged in public--I usually try to wait until Easter, but with temperatures in the 80s, there was no way.  Of course, as I am writing this, dark clouds are filling the sky and a threatened cold front is bearing down bringing rain.  But, it will pass through and wash away the pollen, so I am ok with that.

I finished my skirt, and it was so much easier than I had anticipated making it with no pattern.  I followed this tutorial, changing it only to add a lining to the skirt and interfacing to the waist band.  I am happy with how it turned out, although the zipper was a bit of a debacle.  I had learned a long time ago to put in zippers using a regular presser foot, but it isn't ideal--usually lumpy and puckered and messy.  So, I decided I would buy a zipper foot and do it properly.  I've had my sewing machine since I was 10, and if it ever had a zipper foot, it is long gone now.  After trying to determine what on earth I needed, I finally ordered one off Amazon.  Only to discover when it arrived that it was definitely not what I needed.  Apparently, my machine was one of the last made with screw on feet, and what you mostly find now are snap on feet.  Of course, what I had ordered was a snap on.  So, I ended up putting in the zipper with the regular presser foot anyway.  I think I can get an adapter though, so hopefully future projects will be a bit more smooth.  Otherwise the skirt is pretty nice--it is fitted in the waist, has pockets, and a side zipper.  More zipper craziness--the tutorial calls for cutting down the side of your skirt so that you can add the zipper in behind the pocket--I don't think I'll be doing that again.  I would rather have a seam up the back and put the zipper in there.

Of course, I had to make Nathan something for Easter, as well--it's probably a good thing he isn't a girl, or all my time would be devoted to tiny dresses.  As it is, boy clothes are bit too challenging, so I settled for making a tiny bowtie, which was so easy, using this tutorial.  There will probably be a lot more bowties in his future.

Besides the sewing, we've been spending lots of time outside, taking walks at the park.  The dogwoods and redbuds are blooming, and clouds of pollen waft through the air.  My allergies are the worst they have every been, and I am chalking it up to postpartum-ness--I am wondering how long I get to blame everything on having had a baby.  Still reading Sarum--just finished up the chapter on the feud between Stephen and Matilda, which is also the time frame for Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth.  Planning on making Hot Cross Buns for Easter, using the Pioneer Woman's recipe.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Staying Home and Making Bread

When I was in graduate school, I told someone once that if the whole academic career thing didn't work out, I would like to just stay home and make bread.  And while I am not saying the academic career hasn't worked out--it has just taken a different route--I am currently staying home and making bread (Strawberry Banana Bread, to be specific).  And I am sewing.  And planting a garden.  And watching a sweet baby grow each day.  My house is filled with trays of seedlings, fabric scraps, and stacks of burp cloths.  While this new life has its challenges, I am reveling in the activities that I love, but haven't previously been able to tackle as passionately as I would like.  

And, lucky, blessed girl that I am, I still get to pursue that academic life as well.  I know that the role of adjunct is absolutely fraught in the academic community, but I am thankful for the flexibility that it provides.  I I am lucky to have a husband with whom I have planned our budget and expenses to allow me to work like this.  I am lucky to have a department chair willing to work my schedule around Jordan's.  I'll be teaching online this summer, and then going back for a main campus class in August.

In the meantime, I am happy to have grading disappear from my to-do list.  I have a new planner/notebook that I am loving and have spent way too much time making customized planner pages and meal-planning/grocery shopping lists.

Friends coming for dinner tonight.  Homemade pizza and apple crisp on the menu.