Monday, May 31, 2021

Chai and Tunisian mitering

The chai arrived today from Reluctant Trading. They're expensive and they're good.

And the smell when I opened the airtight container was wonderful. Just what you hope for. I could identify cardamon, cloves, nutmeg, other spices. I'm looking forward to trying it. 

I can probably reproduce this myself, but these guys have wonderful spices, so I'm trying them first.

In other news, I learned a new skill. I made a Mitered Square in Tunisian crochet. 

I found I had a couple of Tunisian hooks I didn't know I had, including this plastic one which is much easier to use than the long metal one. 

It has a cable which enables long rows of stitches. Like the cables on circular knitting needles except the crochet ones are finished with a stopper instead of meeting another needle end as for knitting.

The cable is a bit resistant and I may need to heat it a bit to make it more flexible so it doesn't keep turning the hook over.

And I tried a new idea. Instead of making a crocheted chain, I cast on stitches as if to knit, and got a nice firm starting edge.

You need an odd number of stitches to make this work, so I cast on 23, enough to try out the technique. 

It's done in simple stitch, with the middle three stitches picked up together. This is why you need the odd number, to allow for that middle stitch with an even number on each side of it.

And, as you see, it worked. Very pleased about this new learning. I can use this as a scissor tag, too. It needs to be steamed because it's curly still.

You can make this with a regular crochet hook, no need for the long type. 

I listened to Donna Leon for the short time it took to make it.

Spaghetti and meatballs for lunch, roast chicken and yellow potatoes for supper. The last of the fig cake at teatime.  Such excitement.

Wonderful walk today in real sunshine. 

Covid changes and reading

Now that people are starting to think about the end of Covid, about which I'm doubtful, since there's a lot of magical thinking going on, and denial, I'm thinking about the changes it's wrought on us 

I believe you don't just emerge from long periods of stress and fear and just resume life as before. We have been changed as people, feeling and seeing life differently. 

Long friendships have foundered on the discoveries we've made, new ones have been struck up. Most of us have had bereavement to  deal with. In the case of someone of my age, this is a normal expectation, but it's been dramatically increased. Five friends I thought I'd see again are gone in the last few months. I still keep expecting to bump into them soon, treacherous memory, forgetting they're gone.

And I've quietly let a couple of wildly self centered friends go when I finally noticed the friendship was a one way street. 

This has been a healthy move, I believe, not being endlessly available for their lamenting while they had no interest in what I was up to. Or  being available and ignored for months until they suddenly start being in constant touch, and talking at, not to, me.  Interestingly, I find I've now outlived one of the people who did this! So that decision was made for me, I guess. I'm still sad she's gone though. I cared about her. I care about the people I've let go. But I need to use my emotional stamina wisely now.

I tend to be very faithful to people even while I'm making all kinds of other changes in my life, but it's okay to examine whether an encounter leaves me drained and a person's name on an email or phone causes me dread. 

There's a time to say I've paid my dues, I can let go of this now! And I have to admit that I have allowed a couple of now former friends to assume I would be endlessly available with no needs of my own.

The pandemic has put this in better perspective. I've always liked my own company, and lockdown has been one long permission to do so without explanation. I think I'm going to continue that. I still have plenty of real friends, which include internet ones, and good neighbors and new ones made over the last year. 

Are you finding you've changed or that you see life differently since March 2020? Or has it confirmed what you knew? Some people are looking for different work rather than resume what they were doing before, if working from home has changed their assumptions about office life.  Some are finding they're having re entry issues, their social skills a bit rusty. I'm observing a lot more end of tether behavior, too, especially on the roads.

Just holiday thinking going on here, while there's reading as always.
My tiny book group has just finished Emma, and I've been intrigued with this, on the subject of reading Austen. Despite the creepy cover art.

It's an account by a writer who has read Austen exclusively through a number of life crises, deaths, marriage, births, and how the reading has illuminated both the novels and herself. It's a great insight also into the impact of Austen on other writers. Some of the analysis is just stunningly good. I'll read more by her.

And here's one I'm embarking on now, recommended by blogista Chris, thank you, an account of an amazing American woman who was a secret agent and, though unknown to most of us, helped secure our future during WW2. She worked despite using a prosthesis to replace a leg destroyed in an accident, breaking all kinds of barriers in the process. This should be great reading, a counterpoint to Maisie Dobbs.


  there'susually a good Donna Leon available. She's such a good prose stylist, as well as storyteller, always a treat, especially when I can access her both in print and audio so I can continue with the novel while I'm doing other things.

This one's about mysterious deaths of wealthy patients in a religious nursing home, a nun who leaves her vocation, and various other clerical happenings, some directly affecting the family of Commissioner Brunetti. And it's a great read.

Today the rain has finally abated and I think I can get out to walk, on sidewalk, everywhere else being mud. 

I don't know why Blogger has suddenly centered all my text and refuses to let me justify left. Bear with me. I always remember Blogger's free, so I should hold off the complaints and be glad it's been available all these years.

So that's my holiday musing. Have a good holiday if you have one, and I think maybe the UK does, as well as the US. If you don't, then happy Monday!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Holiday Weekend. Maybe.

 So this is the current weather. Third day. 

And indoors I've been attending to the downstairs plants a bit since the ficus went out.
This spider plant used to hang in the kitchen until it grew till  I wasn't able to lift it up and down for watering. Its growth pattern was not evident when it was up high, just looked luxuriant.

But at floor level the bald center looked obvious. Soooooo here's the after picture when it gets a botanical equivalent of a hairpiece.

It looks a ton better from across the room now.  And the philodendron likes the company.

The very last little ghosts of the white iris before she went out to feed the earth. Still beautiful, that architecture.

Outside everyone's happy despite being heavily rained on.  Bottom left the peppermint appearing from apparently dead cuttings.  Middle, the chives booming, and top the yellow potatoes leaping up. These are from just peelings, never had to give up a potato. Potatoes usually hate being waterlogged, but these are rising above it.

Then the Great Indoors, and I found a new thing to learn. Turns out you can do Mitered Squares in Tunisian crochet, too. Two obsessions meet! This is going to happen.

Speaking of Mitered Squares, when will she ever stop, make her stop 

here are the pockets finished, placed, yet to be stitched on. Little turnover tops, very sharp detail :)

But cold rainy weather demands comfort food. Spaghetti and meatballs. I had the sauce in the freezer from the last outing, so this was easy. Good parmigian cheese, hot pepper flakes, bit of Colby Longhorn added to thicken the sauce.

And there it is. Enough for tomorrow, too.

And a matinee is planned today, with tea and fig cake

We're all set. 

Have a good day and a good weekend and, blogistas in the US, remember to thank the troops we're honoring for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Jam review, and pockets ahoy!

My neighbor gave the strawberry ginger jam a good review. He had it on breakfast toast, liked it enough to make a second batch of toast to put it on. 

It did gel enough to stay on the toast. I've also had it on plain yogurt, like a sauce, and liked it a lot.  So that's good. There really is nothing as good as the flavor of jam  in small batches. I believe it has to do with the evaporation of liquid in the boiling. And using fresh picked peak ripe fruit counts.

And, on the Mitered Square jacket, msj, on mdw, Memorial Day weekend, pockets are happening.  

As I got under way with the yellow one you see above, I remembered I had a similar one already made somewhere, and found it. Perfect for the other pocket. Done in Tunisian Simple Stitch, just like the yellow one. I probably made it when I was learning simple stitch.

They needed to be bigger than the squares, to accommodate my hands and my phone and whatever else I want to put in. And they need to be firmer than knitting. So this was just the time for a bit of Tunisian crochet. You notice the giant crochet hook in the picture.

It's like a woven fabric, and I like doing it, a cross between knitting and crochet.
I realized after I started that I needed to review how to proceed, after I'd got the foundation chain done, the usual start of any crochet. 

One of the best teachers on YouTube is this lady

She's an excellent teacher, paced nicely for a beginner or a review, and I just like her a lot.

I am signed up;  she doesn't post a lot, but what she does is worth your time if you're interested. And she got me started again just fine. It all came back.

In the picture above of my pockets, there's a nice little piece of saori weaving I found, too, already lined as a wall hanging, but now I'm thinking a purse.. I can crochet a long strap, stitch up the sides with a flap, done. But first I'll finish the jacket.

And after that I'll make the skirt. I also unearthed a lovely piece of linen I'd dyed, which might be a skirt, if there's never know what you'll find in that little box of remnants and scraps.

Rainy cold weekend, but I'll be occupied.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Ficus pushed ahead of schedule, emergency gardening

I've been wondering when to get the ficus tree out to the patio for her annual season at camp.  She needs to be tethered to avoid being blown over, because top heavy, houseplant, not outdoor pruned, and the fence, the usual support, is to go away soon.

Then today while I was watering, I realized we had an emergency plant situation. The whole pot was infested with tiny insects, ready to move on to the other plants.

So Ficus was hauled outside hastily, and stood on the deck while I ran for twine. Before I'd got back less than a minute later, she'd blown over.  Here she is, upright again,  resting against the wall

Then I was wondering what to tether her to. I decided on the faucet, pretty sturdy. And there she is. 

Full sun was not my choice but no other way to secure her. We're getting cooler weather and  rain starting today, so I guess this timing was just as well. She's under the roof overhang so she won't get much rain. 

And she needs to be moved to stand on earth soon, so that her roots can sink in and get nutrition. Also she doesn't blow over so much when she's rooted.

The rest of the plants are quite happy to take up the space. You can just see her outside, at the right end of the window.

Blessed silence from the 17year cicadas, probably weather related. For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with this particular cicada, there are different kinds of cicadas, I checked decibel levels. 

The CDC warns that more than a few minutes exposure higher than 85 dbs is hazardous to hearing. 

Chain saw 110, lawn mower 85-100, 17 year cicadas 90.  And they hatch in millions.

Summer crickets make a comparable sound, but we don't get them in millions. And the sound is not incessant. A few friendly crickets around the house don't compare. I rest my case!

The 17 years are beautiful, not harmful usually, don't sting nor bite. But they are a hearing hazard.  And I changed my walk to avoid the trees where they're plentiful for a few days.

I wore my Mitered Squares jacket to the library today, chilly enough,  in the hope of seeing knitter librarian friends, but no luck. They may have taken the day to lengthen the holiday weekend. Memorial Day in the US. 

Also the start of summer, pools open, shore in season. For me, arranging the deck for reading outside. And changing the red felt winter door curtain for the stripey canvas one. Not a big commitment.

Next time Handsome Son is over, he'll help with that. Also finally deliver my mother's day card. We both forgot to observe the day, what with dryers and ultrasounds.  It lost its place on the list!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Second chances and a finish

Bug alert, caution. Don't say I didn't warn you. First cicada of the season on my deck. They're out. 

About half a mile away but pretty loud. Not deafening this time around. I guess there are thousands rather than the millions that emerged right over our heads last time and caused me temporary deafness, no joke.

A short life, but a merry one.

And here's the second blossom of the white iris, coming on bravely. Maybe even the third one will get there, too.

And finally the Serious Old Party finally gets the Mitered Squares jacket stitched up and tried on. 

Like a real photo shoot, modeling a Very Warm Jacket Suitable for Fall and Winter on a broiling hot late May day. Model stressed out.

Looks like yoga stretches 

And here it is. Still needs to be pressed, but I think this will be fun to wear, if we can get the model cheered up.

Now I can get on to my seasonal skirt.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The kitchen front, two takes

 I'm currently reading The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan, for which I have been waiting I dunamany weeks.

Set in wartime Britain with food rationing and the workarounds important particularly to women struggling to cope with what really was near starvation, it's an interesting take with all kinds of emotional buttons pushed. A cooking contest, the winner to be a presenter on BBC radio, is at the hub of events. It presents recipes as it goes, too.

It's a bit unfair to read this after Austen, Leon, or Winspear, because the writing level doesn't compare. But I like the concept so I'll finish it. 

And she did her homework on the history of the time, full credit there. If you're not familiar with the British food rationing of the early 40s, her opening account of a week's allowance of food (only if available, not guaranteed), for an adult,  might be an eye opening surprise. Other scenes, too, but I'll leave you to read it.

Meanwhile on the other kitchen front, D's suggestion yesterday about ginger strawberry jam came to pass. Small batch jams are good. Just enough to enjoy and give a bit to the neighbors.

Here's the makings. Small batches aren't a big deal.

And this is on the way to unboildownable. See soup pot on the other burner, we'll get to that.

Here's the resulting jam. I boiled it for quite a while longer than usual, and I hope I succeeded in getting it to gel. Once it's cool I'll know. Its delicious, with that bite of ginger. If it doesn't gel, it's fruit sauce.

And since I urgently needed lunch, a soup of butternut squash, red lentils and cashews also happened at basically the same time. The broth is a Rachel Ray vegetable one, and very good. 

The sprig of thyme on the soup is more than just pretty. It gives a lovely delicate flavor too. The hot soup seems to release the flavor molecules or something. Anyway you get flavor without cooking it in. 

The Thai basil you've often seen over the winter on my soup is just now starting again from my saved seeds, and when that's advanced enough I'll use it. I grow it as an annual.

The kitchen smelled like America's test kitchen! All good stuff going.

In less happy food news I opened the latest package of the English breakfast tea that I've been drinking and enjoying for years, same company, same high price. Name redacted because they have deeper pockets and more lawyers than I.

I noticed the packaging had changed but attached no importance to it. Then when I opened it and took a sniff expecting the usual lovely scent, I was surprised. Hardly any. I made a pot as usual, same amount, pot, everything. It tasted of nothing. 

So I got an immediate refund. I'd got it through Amazon, yes, I know, but I rarely do use Amazon, and for once was glad. They instantly processed the refund, instructed me not to return the two large bags, maybe foodstuff related, maybe Covid, and I was done. No need to contact the tea company.

Wanting to be fair, I went to the tea folks website to explain and see what's up. Their customer service asks you to email, because they're now remote. Fine. I went there. And the email is disabled. Nothing daunted, I went to their Twitter account to message them privately. And found their DMs are disabled.  

I don't want to go nuclear and put out a public tweet, so I'm leaving it there. I'm done. I wonder if they've changed hands. The quality drop won't get them far with people who like tea enough to buy high end leaves, no matter how fancy the packaging.

Meanwhile I went to Reluctant Trading and I'm going to get a bit of chai mix to see if that works for me as a change from English breakfast. I've tried other companies' English breakfast tea, and it didn't compare, so maybe a change will be good.

I've been given chai by Indian friends and it was like drinking hot candy. But I wonder if I can make my own without sugar, since I don't like sugar in any hot drink other than chocolate. We'll see. I'll report back when it arrives. No rush.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

More unexpected things

So my contractor is back from his mother's and showed up to take care of the deck situation. 

Now I hope I won't be studying a building site for months while the fence work is being argued out. Well, we've done our bit.

And  strawberries are in at the farm. 

The last few hot days moved them along fast and they're the best in years, much sweeter than last year when we didn't have those sudden hot days.

One container to eat fresh, one to freeze for future jam or whatever I suddenly decide.

And here's a lunch for the day the cleaners came, when I completely forgot to think about lunch and came home starving and with no plans. 

Sardines on whole wheat. Yogurt with strawberries. In fact pretty good.

I had done the strawberry run then I went to read at the park. Read? In fact I thought wait,  that stuff isn't in this book, oh, right, I was sleeping and dreaming an exciting scene about chasing or something. 

I can dream during even a short nap, the ever-moving shuttle at work. But it's confusing to wake and wonder where that scene was in the book.

Oh, and massive excitement in the houseplant department. My ginger finally put up a little shoot!! My excitement is out of all proportion to the size of the shooticle.

The qtip is to show you where to look, it's that small. Squint. It's there. My faith is rewarded.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Unexpected iris and other flashbacks

A garden as untended, and unintended, as mine, tends to bring the unexpected. This iris, a rebloomer which not only never rebloomed, but never bloomed at all for several years suddenly showed up, and very welcome, too. Two views

There are two other rebloomers,  one a beautiful pale blue which bloomed exactly once and another I don't even remember the color because she declined to bloom at all.

The roses are booming though, out back

And another memory out of nowhere, speaking of sudden appearances, I remembered Fred Whitehead, my brilliant, eccentric lecturer in Old French texts at uni. Name came up in an unrelated search.

He was the editor of the text we used in the course of learning Old French. It's as different from modern French as Beowulf is from modern English. 

Here's a sample from that text, La Chatelaine de Vergi different spellings, different editions:

Une maniere de gent sont

qui d'estre loial samblant font

et de si bien conseil celer

qu'il se covient en aus tier 

etc etc

The gist, being a very modern one, considering this was written in the thirteenth century, unknown author, goes like this:

There's a kind of person who pretends to be a friend and learns all about your business then runs about telling everyone and making fun of you, and here's the story of a secret affair gossiped about, and disaster.

Which of us has never lived through that or seen it happen? Some of us even have relatives who do that, read the advice columns for examples!

Long ago, and I do have a point here, I used to teach community writing classes largely to educated young women, going mad at home with young children, who, however beloved, didn't exactly function as intellectual companions. 

The moms, and some older women convinced they could write gripping memoirs, seized on what I had to offer as an outlet for their thinking. Always wildly overbooked, the classes ran for years and quite a few published pieces came out of them. 

Eventually I began gently to discourage people from repeatedly signing up because I wanted them to function as independent writers, not as my students. This wasn't popular, since some folks were willing to depend on me forever! 

Anyway one technique I taught, to enable them to set up their own writing life, was to analyze features and stories and note which publications ran them. Then they could target their submissions.  

This was back in the days of dozens of print publications open to freelance and spec. submissions. I sold regularly that way, taught myself by observation how this worked, and passed on the info.

I'd bring  in to class features and stories I'd clipped, and read them without any indication of the source, and have students guess the source.

Now this was also the days of the true confession mags, full of fiction written in the first person, rattling good stories and snubbed by a lot of wannabes who refused even to buy them to study style, because the covers were lurid. They were missing a lot, out of a bit of snobbery,  wanting their friends to see them in classy mags, not in, clutching pearls, confession mags for working class ladies.

Anyway I wanted them to be writers, understanding that your market might be unexpected. At that time I was selling some great stuff routinely to the confessions, as well as to name brand places, paying my son's considerable medical bills from the proceeds. This was also the days when pre existing conditions rendered a baby patient uninsurable, but moving on.

So there were a few hilarious sessions of people guessing oh, Redbook? McCalls? No? True Confessions! Oh. They began to realize some really snappy fiction was to be found in those despised mags. I showed them how the stories worked, not to copy but to get the hang of rhythm and structure.

Then when they were pretty knowledgeable, I brought in the Chatelaine, classic old French text, very respected literature, and translated as I went, not explaining the origin. You were wondering when I would get to the point of mentioning it at all.. 

And half the class said, oh, that's so gripping and immediate, it must be from a confessional mag! It's wonderful!  You can't fool us!

Then I passed  around the book, in Old French and, as they puzzled over the weird language. explained nope, classic tale of love and secrecy and crossed wires and despair and hope. Cornerstone of early French literature.

Which shows that you get good lit where you find it, not always where academia says it's spozed to be. It might be in the canon. It might not. And then again, you have to be your own guide. And read, and write, your own choice, no matter what anyone tells you. Including me.

Also there's animal action in old stories. In the Chatelaine, a little dog is an important actor. Seven centuries before Toto.

Meanwhile back nearer the present

This is easier to get hold of than the Chatelaine de Vergi, (though that's online in translation, not very long, if you fancy taking a stab at it)  and another great Brunetti narrative.  

As always I recommend it both for excellent storytelling and incidental learning about history and food and languages of Venice and Italy in general.

Another day in the ragbag of my mind!