Open Letters

[This post has been rescued from my drafts folder, where it has been languishing since late 2018. Please rest assured that Perpetua has since sorted out traffic lights.]

To the fruit flies in my bathroom:

Seriously, what is the deal? What are you even living on? Do you know that I have bananas in the kitchen?

In puzzlement,

Christine


Dear Maryland drivers,

If you look closely, on the left-hand side of your steering wheel you will find a lever that is in easy reaching-distance while you drive. Flicking that lever up will cause a light to blink on the right-hand side of your car. Flicking that lever down will cause a light to blink on the left-hand side of your car. These blinking lights serve to notify other drivers of your intent to change lanes, turn, or otherwise move your vehicle in a non-forward direction. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but you might find them useful.

Think about giving it a shot,

Christine


My darling daughter,

I love your passion for the world around you! I feel as if it would be remiss of me, however, if I didn’t point out that screaming will not change the fact that red means stop and green means go, however much you wish it were the other way around. It is one of life’s great tragedies that we cannot change reality simply by feeling at it. I am sure we will continue to unpack this truth as you grow. In the meantime, please just watch some Daniel Tiger until you feel better.

Your doting Mama


To the lady on our street who walks her cat every morning:

I just want to say that I admire your gumption. You go, girl! Walk that cat!

Meow,

Your admiring neighbour

Car blanket for Perpetua

With impeccable timing, I’ve finished this woolen car blanket for Perpetua just as the weather here is finally getting consistently warm. Ah, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes…

About a year ago, a neighbour of my mother’s gave her a box of yarn to pass on to me. Inside were about a dozen skeins of “Lamb’s Pride” yarn from Brown Sheep Yarn in Nebraska. It’s an 85% wool 15% mohair blend, so very warm and very heavy (Lamb’s Pride comes in multiple weights but my skeins are Bulky). I wasn’t sure what to do with it for a long time; it’s a lot heavier than I would personally use for a garment and I only had about 500 yards of each colour. According to what I could find on ravelry, a lot of people use this yarn for felting.

But as we moved into fall and winter it struck me that it would be perfect for small lap-robe blankets that the kids could use in the van in the winter. Our old girl can take some time to really warm up and since you’re not supposed to use winter coats in cat seats things can get pretty chilly! (We do lay their winter coats on top of the buckles, don’t worry.) Perpetua is the one who is most bothered by the cold, so I decided to start with hers. And then I put it away halfway through because I was bored. I recently pulled it out and finished it in like two evenings, but least it will be ready for this winter. I’ve got some nice green and dark blue to make blankets for Tertia and Anselm as well.

This blanket was done in moss stitch with a K (6.5mm) hook.

Tenebrae

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
Forgive them, they know not what they do

Today you will be with me in Paradise
You will be with me today

Behold your son, behold your mother, behold your son…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why have you forsaken me?

I thirst, I thirst…
It is finished, it is finished…

Father, into your hands, into your hands
I commend my spirit

I guess I knit things now

I made a thing. After twenty years of crocheting, my first knitting project is complete. I honestly don’t know how I feel about it… but I learned some things (including how to fix at least some of my mistakes) and ended up with an actual finished project, so that’s something.

Anyway, this is a pair of fingerless gloves, made with some leftover Mary Maxim Starlette Sparkle yarn from when I made our tree skirt. It was a pretty good yarn for a first project: not too splitty, not fuzzy, and a cheap acrylic to keep the stakes nice and low. The gold tinsel-y strands did give me occasional trouble when they didn’t want to stay with the rest of the yarn, but on the whole it was manageable.

The gloves were each knit as a panel, and then folded and seamed together. In the photo above, the first one I made is on the left and the second is on the right; I can definitely see some improvement between them even though I accidentally added a row or two to the second one. Counting is hard, guys. (It still ended up slightly smaller as my tension evened out a bit.)

This project taught me the long-tail cast-on, knitting and purling, garter stitch, stockinette stitch, ribbing, binding off, and three different techniques for seaming. Binding off, by the way, makes me feel like a wizard. It also taught me that 36 live stitches is a whole other thing compared to crochet’s one and it’s frustratingly easy to lose stitches off your needles. Errors on my part meant I also learned how to decrease after accidentally increasing, tink (knit backwards to go back in a row), pick up a dropped stitch from a few rows up, and get all of the stitches back on my needles after having to rip out several rows (nightmare). Phew.

Did I enjoy it? Yes and no. I hit a lot of the frustrating phases of learning a new skill, when you can follow instructions but don’t yet understand the “why” behind them, or when you know you’re making mistakes but don’t necessarily know how to fix or avoid them. Crochet is very relaxing to me; knitting definitely is not. I can see that it likely will be some day, if I’m willing to put in the work now. To be honest, I’m still deciding whether I want to do that, at least at this particular phase of my life. (But also to be honest, I daydreamed up an easy scarf pattern and got out some yarn to try it with, so clearly my brain is engaged with knitting even if my feelings aren’t.) I need to keep reminding myself that I’ve been crocheting for two decades and knitting for, like, six hours, so of course it’s going to be a very different experience. And that’s ok.

And if knitting doesn’t work out, well, I guess there’s always hand modeling.

Reading Roundup: March 2022

March books! As you can see, I’m still on my Brandon Sanderson kick, albeit not so overwhelmingly this month. Here’s the full list:

  • The Flight (Dan Hampton)
  • Warbreaker (Brandon Sanderson)
  • And It Was Good (Madeleine L’Engle)
  • Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)
  • Twelve Angry Men (Richard Rose)
  • Elantris (Brandon Sanderson)

The Flight was a library discard book I picked up at my local branch, and it chronicles Charles Lindbergh’s world-changing solo flight across the Atlantic. Although there is some necessary biography mixed in, the book’s focus really is an hourly play-by-play of his 33.5-hour flight. Dan Hampton is also an aviator, which made his narrative rich in technical details, although I found his prose somewhat clunky. It was a slow read, but I now know a bunch of facts about aviation in the 1920s, which is not the worst thing in the world.

Warbreaker is an early standalone novel in Brandon Sanderson’s cosmere, set on a planet that uses a magic system based around Breath (with a capital B) and colour. A tense peace exists between neighbouring nations Idris and Hallandren, and Idrian Princess Vivenna has been training her whole life for a treaty-negotiated marriage to Suseron, the Hallandren God-King. At the last moment, however, her sister Siri is sent in her place. Vivenna is determined to rescue her hapless sister, but soon enough both women find out that nothing they’ve assumed about Hallandren is as it seems. (Fun fact: Warbreaker was written two years before Apple’s virtual assistant was released, so the name “Siri” is purely coincidental — but if you read the book with Google’s ebook reader, it changes her name throughout to “Google Assistant,” with predictably hilarious results.)

And It Was Good is one of L’Engle’s nonfiction offerings, this one a long meditation on the first chapters of Genesis, from creation to Abraham. It’s a bit of a meandering text, sprinkled throughout with both memoir and short fiction as she works to relate these Biblical stories to her own life, and to imagine some of the stories that scripture doesn’t give us (what did Eve feel when she birthed Cain?). L’Engle is ultimately building a universalist case for salvation, which I don’t think is true and correct, but I appreciate her willingness to engage with the texts and to challenge some of my own assumptions.

And It Was Good actually sent me to Jayber Crow. I’ve read some of Berry’s poetry, but this was the first time I’d read any of his fiction. The novel is written in the form of a memoir by the eponymous Jayber Crow, the barber in Berry’s fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. It’s much more than Jayber’s life story, really, making up a long elegy for a way of small town American life that began to pass away in the 1950s-70s with the advent of large-scale commercial farming and the construction of the highways and superhighways that suddenly connected small enclaves like Port William to the outside world, for both good and ill. The prose is beautiful (no surprise) and, as with this passage that L’Engle quoted, often indicting:

One Saturday evening, while Troy was waiting his turn in the chair, the subject was started and Troy said — it was about the third thing said — “They ought to round up every one of them sons of bitches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.”

There was a little pause after that. Nobody wanted to try to top it. I thought of Athey’s reply to Hiram Hench.

It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked at Troy. I said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. “Where did you get that crap?”

I said, “Jesus Christ.”

And Troy said, “Oh.”

It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.

I’ve heard many times that the 1957 film 12 Angry Men was an incredible movie about a jury trial, but I wanted to read the stage play before I watched it. So I did. It’s a quick read, and a great play. The movie is also available for free on vimeo — at least until whoever owns MGM these days notices and takes it down.

Elantris was my other BrandoSando book in March, also concerning a treaty wedding — except when Princess Sarene arrives in Arelon to marry Prince Raoden, she finds out that he has died. Except Raoden hasn’t died — he’s been hidden, cast into the lost city of Elantris, after being taken by the shaod… which is sort of like being turned into a zombie? Except living. Mostly. While Raoden works to survive in Elantris and figure out what has happened to the shaod — which, until ten years ago, deified instead of zombified — Sarene must figure out how to prevent a holy war against her adopted nation, led by the grim Derethi priest Hrathen. This was Sanderson’s first published novel, and it shows. It’s not a bad book, I enjoyed it, but it’s full of bewildering fantasy names, many of which sound nearly the same as each other, and doesn’t have the tight plotting or polished prose of later books. Still worth a read, but if you’re starting Sanderson, I wouldn’t start with this one.

Beginner again

When I was about nine or ten years old, I learned to knit. A lady from our church came over one afternoon, and while I don’t remember if it was the point of the visit or just sort of happened, she taught me the garter stitch with a pair of straight needles and some bright yellow yarn. I worked on my little swatch and got it an inch or two long. That week I took it to school to knit during recess, and even at a track meet, slowly but diligently working my needles.

At some point one of my friends pointed out that my knitting didn’t seem to be getting any bigger. She was right! What could have happened? As it turns out, I had forgotten the crucial “yarn over” part of the stitch, and so all I was doing was passing my little swatch back and forth, back and forth between the needles. Without noticing. For days. So I put the yarn and needles away, and that was that.

Some years later my mom taught me to crochet, which went much better, and I largely forgot about ever wanting or learning to knit. I’ve been crocheting for twenty years, and while I’ve made occasional half-hearted stabs at knitting over the years — just because it seems like something I should be able to do — it never really clicked. I’ve made some lumpy swatches, most of which rapidly increased in width for reasons that were unfathomable to me. Ugh, knitting. Whatever. One hook good, two sticks bad, moving on.

Except here’s the thing. I want to make socks. And crocheted socks? Crocheted socks are awful. If you want to make good socks, socks you’d actually want to wear… well, you have to learn how to knit and that’s all there is to it. And so here I am, starting over once more. Somewhat to my surprise, I’m really enjoying it. I’m definitely making mistakes! There’s a mini-row of garter stitch in my stockinette section from when I spaced out and started knitting instead of purling. And I dropped a stitch and didn’t notice for four rows, then had to figure out how to get it back up where it needed to be. But overall, it’s making sense. How fun is that?

^ This up here is how I’m learning. I signed up for a premium Craftsy membership (PSA: never pay full price; there is almost always a facebook ad running that will give you a year for like $2) and enrolled in Susan B. Anderson’s wee baby beginner course. Now, to be honest, Craftsy is a bit of a hot mess. You can’t save courses as favourites if you’re using the desktop site, you can’t download materials if you’re using the app, your accounts don’t sync across platforms, and their search function leaves a lot to be desired. But this course is fantastic. Susan’s explanations are so clear, and I love that we jump right in and learn the stitches by making projects: first a pair of fingerless mitts, then a chunky cowl, then a striped hat with colour changes.

Am I ready for socks? No, not by a long shot. But you know, I think I’m going to be ready. And if you’ll excuse me, I have some knitting to do.

Helianthus

The thing about writing poetry is that it’s a pretty solitary experience. Mostly I just think about things quietly in my head, write them down, tinker with them until I’m satisfied and/or finished tinkering, and nobody else is involved except for when something is accepted for publication. Even then, there’s not a lot of back and forth — mostly just confirming availability, publication rights, and other administrative stuff. I miss working with other creative people. I miss the writing group I was part of ten years ago; I miss singing in choirs and, back in dinosaur times, playing in my high school band. Writing poetry is a balm for me, but it can be lonely too.

All of this to say — it was a real pleasure when Canadian composer Frank Horvat contacted me a week or two back, looking for text for a choral piece he wanted to write. Frank has been very moved (as have we all) by the plight of the Ukrainian people, and wondered if I had any poems in my files on the theme of peace? Well, I didn’t, so I wrote him a new one. And while I have had some of my existing poems set to music before, this was the first time I was writing a text specifically for that purpose. It was a fun challenge and I enjoyed collaborating with Frank!

The poem text is called “Helianthus,” which is the scientific name for sunflowers. It draws from a few different things: the language of flowers, specifically around poppies and their role in commemorating those lost in war; the sunflower as Ukraine’s national flower; and my own comfort throughout the pandemic and other turbulent times in my life in the knowledge that whatever else happens, the sun will rise and set, the moon will wax and wane, and the seasons will still turn from one to the next.

“Helianthus” is scored for a cappella treble choir (SSAA). The sheet music is freely available on Frank’s website, and includes the full poem text on the last page. I dearly hope to hear a choir sing it one day — but for now, I’m just very pleased that it exists.

Reading Round-Up: February 2022

You may notice a theme here. Last month I read the following books, most of them door stopper-sized and every one of them by Brandon Sanderson:

  • The Way of Kings
  • Words of Radiance
  • Edgedancer
  • Oathbringer
  • Dawnshard
  • Rhythm of War

Only six books… but those books together held over 1.7 million words, so by that measure it was still a pretty heavy reading month!

These are the books that currently make up Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series, which is part of his overarching fictional universe, the Cosmere, which is a little hard to explain without ending up looking like this guy:

In my (admittedly still limited) understanding, the Cosmere is a universe in which a group of ~15 persons conspired to and managed to kill their god/the universe’s creative force, Adonalsium, who/which shattered into a bunch of pieces that flew off into different planetary systems. Those sixteen “shards” of godhood/creative force, each carry one aspect of Adonalsium’s divinity (or whatever) and ended up picked up various individuals in each system, who took on each specific aspect/power and functionally became gods of their planetary systems. Each planetary system has its own distinct magic system, and one of the Cosmere’s overarching themes is what happens when fallen humans end up with divine powers. The books in the Cosmere span thousands of years in time, and although each one is set on a particular world, there are characters who appear in different books/worlds, known as “world-hoppers”. With 18 Cosmere books currently in print and something like a total of 40 planned, there is a lot to explore.

Anyway. The six books I read last month take place on the planet Roshar, part of the Rosharan system. Edgedancer and Dawnshard are novellas that fill out the stories of some minor characters. The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Oathbringer, and Rhythm of War are all novels, part of Sanderson’s planned series of 10, and provide the meat of the story. Point of view rotates between a large cast of characters that gradually expands as the series progresses, detailing the war between the Alethi princedoms and the not-quite-human Parshendi peoples on the enormous battlefield known as the Shattered Plains. In The Way of Kings we begin with the stories of Dalinar Kholin, brother of the Alethi king whose assassination opens the book; Kaladin, a darkeyed slave sent to fight on the plains; Prince Adolin, Dalinar’s son; and Shallan Davar, a young woman sent to steal an important piece of technology from one of the preeminent scholars of the day, in hopes of saving her family’s fortune. From there, things get… considerably more complicated.

One of the things that I absolutely love about Brandon Sanderson’s work is his worldbuilding. Roshar is unlike Earth; it’s also unlike other planets in the Cosmere. It’s a watery world, and its people live on one huge continent (there are many more kingdoms/peoples than the Alethi and Parshendi). Roshar is subject to terrible recurring storms, highstorms, that sweep across the continent from East to West before circling the globe and passing over again. You don’t want to be caught out in a highstorm — but you do want to set out your gems, set in glass spheres, so that they can be refreshed with stormlight. Stormlight is the basis of Roshar’s magic system; captured in gemstones, it functions as currency, provides illumination, and is used to power the “fabrials” of Rosharan technology as well as provide the energy needed by Soulcasters, who can transform materials (people into stone, stone into grain, that sort of thing). Also the animals are mostly crabs which is… surprisingly charming. And unlike in this paragraph, Sanderson doesn’t info-dump his worldbuilding; he just plops you right in the action and you piece it together as you go. I love that.

Sanderson also does some interesting things with Rosharan societies. In the Vorin religion, followed by a large swath of the continent, gender roles are highly stratified: for example, only women are literate. This means that a man who wishes to read a book needs a female scribe to read it to him, which in turn means things like noble Alethis going to war as married couples — the husband to fight and lead troops, and his wife to manage the scouts and any reports that need to be read or sent. In Vorinism, a woman’s most private and erotic body part is her left hand, so Vorin women keep it covered at all times — the poor with a simple glove, and the right with a full encapsulating sleeve. And speaking of rich and poor, Alethi society is a caste system. This one isn’t based on skin colour (they uniformly have tan skin and black hair) but on the lightness or darkness of one’s eyes. The dark-eyed masses make up the lower classes, and the light-eyed rule. Members of the ruling caste are therefore addressed as Brightlord or Brightlady.

This was my second time reading through these books; I first encountered the Stormlight Archive about a year ago, as briefly touched on in last year’s round-up post. It had been long enough that I remembered most of the outlines but had forgotten most of the details, which to my mind is just about the perfect condition for a reread. This month I’ve branched out into further reaches of the Cosmere, which you will hear about (though probably not at this length!) later 🙂 I’m so happy to have discovered Brandon Sanderson’s fiction, and I’m sure that I will be reading him for years to come.

Putter: verb: (2) to work at random

It’s finally my favourite season again. I don’t mean spring, although spring comes into it. I mean the long season that stretches, where I live, from about mid-March through mid-November, the season I like to call Puttering About in the Yard.

I love it.

After what certainly felt like a long winter, it’s lovely to be able to just wander outside in the afternoon and… putter. Yesterday I raked up two bags’ worth of leaves that we didn’t get to in the fall, and uncovered the fig tree from its winter wrappings. Today I’ve washed the patio furniture and brought all the cushions up from storage. Maybe later I’ll rip out some weeds while they’re still relatively dormant and can’t fight back. Or I’ll sort through the storage shed so that all our gardening things are close to hand. Or I’ll start a list of what we’ll need for the garden beds (more mulch; more soil; many more strawberry plants). Or something else. It doesn’t matter; that’s the beauty of Puttering season. There’s always something to do, and you can choose what you like, and it’s all worthy and pleasant, and the stakes are reassuringly low. It’s not work if you’re just puttering.

Perhaps I’ll just sit out here and read a book.

Now, I know that I’m sending up a double-dog dare to the universe by declaring Puttering season open when it’s only mid-March. Our last frost date isn’t until the end of April, and maybe we’ll get another big dump of snow before this is over. But I don’t mind. What is all that compared to the fact that it’s 21°C today, the breeze is warm, and the robins are back? Not much, is what.

So here’s to the spring. Here’s to a full bird feeder and fat nosy squirrels, here’s to the sun on your skin and dirt under your fingernails. Here’s to puttering!