Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Winter greens and other comic treasures

A chinook blew through last week, smearing the sky with fog and taking the luster off the snow. Add several rounds by the sanding truck, and my little world was a dull monochrome. I pulled out my phone, opened my fridge, and snapped some colour from my crisper.

It was a soup day - not recipe soup, but "use up the abundance before it falls into corruption" soup. Carpe tuber, root, and rhizome soup, held together with tomatoes and veggie bouillon, with lentils for protein and whatever greens were on hand for roughage and colour. Our grocery box service tries its best to stay local, so the greens I had on hand were of the late harvest variety: still crisp and full-flavoured, but their structure had gone from supermarket perfection to something delightfully Seussian.

The swiss chard came bunched close like a romaine heart, and pulled apart to reveal these fat, yellow-trunked angular pines. All we need is a miniature CindyLou Who to string them up with bingle balls and whofoo fluff.

The baby bok choy wasn't bunched at all; it came in loose spangles with round leaves like so much overgrown clover. If it wasn't for the flavour, I'd have pegged it for an entirely different plant. I chopped up both unusual renditions and tossed them in. The soup pot didn't object to the difference.

My little crisper drawer adventure reminds me of the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetable Campaign from France's Intermarché. I wonder if our short growing season is cut even shorter by a market that doesn't allow local produce that doesn't look like it did at the height of summer. I wonder where along the line it became kosher to throw out perfectly good produce because it didn't measure up to some artificial definition of vegetal beauty. Waste argument aside, we're missing out on a lot of fun. Imperfect vegetables look hilarious. The fact that they taste fine is just a bonus.

I'm not big on foodtography. I'd rather just get eating. But misshapen fruits and wonky vegetables have me grabbing for a camera, whatever the light. Carrots with limbs, leeks with centres that squiggle, burlesque berries, and warty potatoes are more likely to be documented than their plain jane cousins. Washing up grocery store niceties is generally pretty boring, but backyard garden fare comes with potential for play: who will find the ugliest potato? I think I hit the jackpot this time.

We'll see what the next end-of-season lottery brings.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mysteries, Children's Books, and Unfinished Business

Another month of reading has gone by, and Twitterature shares a spot with my church calendar once again. I hadn't realized how many months worth of fifteenths were noteworthy until I began my little pilgrimage from pixels back to paper. November's 15 marks the beginning of advent, so I've been pecking out my reviews in the midst of the yearly hunt for the advent wreath. The Christmas decorations were put away last year in a newborn haze, so remembering what got put where proved a bit more adventurous than usual.

My literary adventures, on the other hand, were a little more whimsical: I continued my mystery kick from October. I decided that I'm grown up enough to read children's books to myself if I fancy them - no need to keep pretending I only brought them home for the children. All that and two books started and stalled and put away for later. Here's this month's reading list:

Hardscrabble Road, by Jane Haddam
I've always said how I like that Haddam's Demarkian novels don't have to be read in order. Most of each novel is its own discreet mystery with just enough of the detective's personal life to add some light-hearted window-dressing. Hardscrabble Road proved me wrong; something happened in the book prior to throw our hero's love life in peril and I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. Fortunately, I had said novel on my shelf, so I just skimmed enough to get the gist of what had happened. I didn't want to reread the whole thing - I still remember whodunit. Unfortunately, the conflict appears to have been resolved in the next novel, Glass Houses, which I've also read recently enough to remember the mystery but not window dressing. Sigh. The mystery itself was still great fun - if Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame to rant about Parisian architecture, Haddam wrote Hardscrabble Road to poke fun at political pundits, and asks hard questions about polarized politics and homelessness in winter cities. Very much worth the read, even if I still don't know what's up with Gregor and Bennis.

Hearts of Sand, by Jane Haddam
This Demarkian novel had none of the troubles of Hardscrabble Road; just old money, a dead debutant, and a thirty year old grudge. For a murder mystery, it was light-hearted and fun.

Katie and the Mona Lisa, by James Mayhew
After waiting over a month for one of my children to ask me to read them this book, I sat down and read it to myself over breakfast. I had been expecting an educational children's story about art history - what I got was a delightfully imaginative romp in and out of famous works from the Italian Renaissance as Katie tries to help Mona Lisa get back her smile. The art was beautifully rendered and there were great little facts worked in the fantasy. I'll have to look up some more of Katie's adventures in the future.

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
I picked up this lovely picture book at the library for its dedication to St. Nicholas, patron of children, maidens, and sailors. Miss Rumphius is a bit of all three, as she follows her life's intentions to travel the world, live by the sea, and make the world more beautiful. I loved the water colour illustrations, the realism, and the simple truth that making the world more beautiful doesn't have to be a grande gesture for it to count. I may put this book on my own Christmas list, just to add some beauty to my house.

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme C. Simsion
I pulled this little novel off the library's hits to go shelf thinking it was The Rosie Project. I got several pages in before I thought to double check the book jacket. Turns out this would be the sequel of the book I thought I was grabbing. As it was, I was sorely tempted to keep reading anyways. Those opening pages had me cracking up big time. I look forward to returning to it once I've read the original.

Acedia & Me, by Kathleen Norris
This lovely tome is a work worth reading slow, and reading often. As it was, I only got partway through before I needed to return it to the library. Norris' grand extension on  The Quotidian Mysteries is part memoir and part meditation, exploring the importance of routine and repetition in a healthy life and the insidious whispered lie that nothing's worth the bother. Wonderfully relevant for anyone who struggles to make their own schedule and stick with it.

And that's it for this time around. Do check by Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other writers have been reading. It's always great fun.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Everywhere still

It's Friday again, and I'm joining with Kate and her band of brave writers for another five minutes of unedited words on a single prompt. This week's word is "still".

"I'm going to go for a walk in the woods," I told my husband on the first retreat where we brought a wee baby. "I'm going to go by myself, and it's going to be AWESOME."

It was. The paths by the lake were silent with deep November snow, the water's edge frozen, the tree bows heavy and muffled fir. It was easy to be still.

Taking that stillness home, however, can be tricky. To remember that the Spirit felt so clearly in woods in the Northern Saskatchewan wilderness is everywhere present, and filling all things. Even my suburban sidewalk. Even my cluttered living room, my even more cluttered playroom, my head full of children's noise and posts worried over and opinions half-formed with a false urgency of needing to finish them lest anyone ask - there's room for stillness here too. Ready to fall over it all like snow, and bring that hush. Everywhere still.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Low Noon

November 5, 11:30 am

I'm often startled by sunny days in November. Year after year, I remember their brevity, and forget their brightness. I remember that shadows lengthen through the autumn, but forget that, by winter, they never really leave.  Perhaps I've absorbed too many stories of high and shadowless noons to stop waiting for the sun to climb directly overhead from October through March. Expectation clashes with reality, time after time, despite all the evidence that ought to have corrected it long ago. A story is a powerful thing. I should read more works by northern writers.

I've been thinking on what inconsistencies lie in my own personal story. What parts of my subconscious narrative say "always been and will ever be so" when "this way for a time" is closer to the truth - and vise versa. Such constancy and novelty are less likely to be exposed by the cycle of seasons, yet every so often somethings brings the difference up short - be it a turn of events or turn of phrase, I'm surprised by the unsurprising. Changes I knew were coming seem sudden; I had absorbed the facts but not adjusted the plot.

I'm still adjusting, accepting that life I have is just a lovely as the one I thought I did. Learning to enjoy the long twisting shadows at noon, even if part of me thinks they shouldn't be there. All amidst the bittersweet tugs of past and future, there's beauty in the present.

Here's to the ever-changing stories, and continuing adventures.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Yarn-bombs & Supersuits: what I learned in October

Another month has gone by, and life's education continues. I'm joining, once again, with Emily from Chatting at the Sky to share what I've been learning, both the serious and the silly. This month, it was mainly silly:

Downtown Edmonton has been yarn-bombed. Sometime between my last two city-centre(ish) walks, the community of Oliver has been peppered with knitting: trees, lampposts, sign polls, and bike-racks are all bedecked in the warm, fuzzy, and colourful. Other than cardboard tags marked "commuknitty", I don't know much else about it. My first google search only came up with instagram and twitter hits (I don't have accounts with either so that didn't help me much). This morning, the first page worth was about some yarn store that closed in San Antonio. I guess the internet has moved on. The only other place I've seen anything like it is Warwick, Queenland's Jumpers and Jazz Festival (and by seen, I mean the fabulous pictures on this blog). I don't mind the mystery; it pares nicely with the kitsch. If I ever run out of people to knit for, I might just jumper our front yard tree.

I own too many dark-coloured tops to tend to a snuffly-nosed baby. October was a month of teething and head-colds for my youngest girl. I spent many a night nursing and many days alternatively stalking my rug rat with a kleenex and moaning over the latest smear on my sweater. I was commiserating about such wardrobe malfunctions with another sick-babed mom at choir practice when another lady joked I should switch my blacks for cream - or maybe olive? I'm thinking my best bet would be a shiny, satin cover-all in desert camo; that would cover the snot spectrum and the coffee stains. Thankfully my two-toothed wonder is back to her happy clear-nosed self. For now.

Do-it-yourself costumes can be fun, provided you aim for "close enough".  My eldest daughter is precise, particular, and extremely detail-oriented, so offering to make her a super suit for Halloween felt pretty brave, and more than a little scary. The Incredibles may be just a fabulous now as it was in 2004, but I was pretty sure we weren't going to find Violet on the costume rack at Superstore ten years later (I just did the math on that one too. Allow me a moment to feel old.). So I pitched the idea of taking whatever red and black clothing we had around, adding a mask,  and making a logo to pin on her shirt. I warned her that we wouldn't be able to get it exactly like the movie, but as long as we used the right colours and had the Incredibles' "i", people would get the idea. She took it beautifully - well, she still felt the need to explain that the gloves were red instead of black and her headband was the wrong colour, but she kept the tone upbeat and ended all criticisms with "but that's okay!" Progress. Progress is good. And my no-sew simple solution stretched easily to include a Dash costume when my son decided to join in the super. 

Healey Willan wrote a Christmas Cantata, and it's magnificent. I've known "The Mystery of Bethlehem" existed since I first pulled it out of my choir folder in September, but it's only been in the last couple rehearsals that we've sang it in its entirety, with a piano reduction to give us an idea of the organ and handbell accompaniment we won't get to experience until the dress rehearsal. I'm excited. And if there's a decent recording of Willan's complete works, I want it for Christmas.    

It's okay to tweak your own recipes. The coming of autumn weather had me searching my archives to make crabapple butter and borscht. And then I didn't exactly follow my own instructions. It felt slightly disloyal to my past selves, but this year's substitutions brought both seasonal goodies up a notch. I've since updated the recipes posts to reflect my self-improvement, but still have the originals if your preferences or pantry contents differ from mine.

That's it for this round. Happy November!