Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's begun

Despite my determination not to become a stereotype, I certainly felt like one yesterday, rereading the same passage of my torts book over and over again, the Latin refusing to become any less incomprehensible (or Google-able...still need to find a good Latin dictionary on the Internet), becoming angrier and angrier as dictionary websites that might have been able to help me refused to load. HM came home from work to find me still in pajamas, still in the same chair he'd left me in, wild eyes darting around beneath a messy topknot bun, rambling about the Latin. "I was doing so well until I got to this part!" I insisted. "You read it!" I suggested, aware even at the time that this was completely nonsensical.

"I don't know what any of that meant," he said, quite possibly sneakily, quite possibly knowing what he was doing.

"IT SAYS THAT THE DEFENDANT SHOT THE PLAINTIFF BUT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT AND..." on and on and it became clear that despite the mess of Latin, I had understood some of the passage.

When we got to the part about various webpages not loading, no dictionaries, no Latin dictionaries, no, not even Wikipedia, he said, "Are you using Firefox?"

"Why would I use Firefox? Chrome is the best."

"Download Firefox."

I had to open Internet Explorer in order to do this.

HM explained that there is some bug in recent versions of Chrome where it updates Flash, but doesn't properly delete the old version of Flash, so that any website with any Flash on it (such as an ad) starts attempting to load both versions of Flash concurrently, causing the website to crash. So, for now at least, Firefox is the best.

Not only was it helpful to have access to several dictionaries (a regular dictionary, a legal dictionary, and a Latin dictionary), but I was also relieved to learn that my web page woes were not my brand new laptop's fault. Because what I was most upset about wasn't the incomprehensible Latin (I could always ask about that in class on Monday), but a fear that the brand new laptop I had just spent lots of money on was in fact garbage. That by, after four years of Linux use, trusting Windows again instead of putting my faith into Apple, I had made a terrible, expensive mistake.

The other issue was that the free legal dictionary app I downloaded (as a placeholder until I bought a real one--I'm not crazy!) was also garbage. Part of the panicky stress into which I had lapsed was that the definition I'd found for a key word in the passage made the entire thing really make no sense. Because the definition was wrong.

I had hoped to complete enough reading yesterday that I could take Sunday off, unless I felt like reading ahead. I still have Monday reading to do. That's okay; class hasn't even officially started yet, so I have plenty of time to establish a good study schedule.

If I don't find myself able to take off an entire day each week, what I will at least do is set aside time to read and write for fun. So this blog is not going to die (or continue to languish as it did this summer) just because I am in law school. It may or may not take on a bit more anonymity, however. Like most adults, I have to think about my web presence and how it reflects on me professionally. Believe it or not (from the recent sparseness of posts), I have spent some time thinking about my "brand" as a blogger, a writer, and have done things like secure "botanylicious" as a username on different social media platforms. But I don't want "botanylicious" to be an intentional representation of my legal career. I don't think it should be a secret, but more like a thing someone might stumble across accidentally and that's okay. I just don't think that I should intentionally attach a banner of kitten unicorns with bacon wings to my (eventual as-yet-to-be-created) LinkedIn profile, where I am supposed to seem serious. It is important to display a balance of the serious professional and the real person with outside interests, but kittens with bacon wings is over the line. My Flickr account with pictures of flowers--okay. Pictures of kittens with bacon wings and a story about getting blue cheese dressing in my hair--too silly.

So I plan to split my web presence as the law student from my web presence as a silly writer. I am just not sure how. Especially since I plan to write more often; I learned in my last grad program (the one I left for law school) that the more I wrote outside of class, the easier it was to write for class. All writing is writing practice.

I do have drafts of posts about some of the things HM and I discovered upon moving to a new part of the country. (Side note: aren't you glad I didn't rename this blog, "Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Oregon In the South"?) These posts were drafted before our encounter with the giant insects I kind of should have known to expect but sort of forgot about until face to face with one. So pretty soon I'll start compiling drafts and paragraphs from emails into some stories. But for now, I have some reading to do.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

It's 1988!

Handsome Man and I drove from my parents' house in New Jersey to our new home in Georgia in one day. Google Maps on my phone said it would take twelve hours. Whatever maps iPhone uses said it would take almost fifteen hours. MApple/iMap was correct, because apparently it is clairvoyant and predicted a car fire in Virginia and car accident in South Carolina. (And so the Apple v. Android-or-Ubuntu debate continues.)

What maintained our sanity during the drive, as we sat for about an hour between mile markers 137 and 133 on I-81 in Virginia, and as we detoured through an airport to get around the South Carolina traffic jam, were the podcasts I downloaded during the week. In addition to our usual Radiolab and Planet Money, I added some suggestions from a web article I had read right after the wedding, shared by someone or something on my Facebook feed, about the best podcasts for long road trips. Here is the article. New to us from this list, and most enjoyed by both of us, were Here's The Thing and Good Job, Brain!. I also downloaded one episode of, but did not listen to, The Accidental Creative, and one episode of A Way With Words which I enjoyed but I am not sure Handsome Man did. It wasn't as big a hit as Good Job, Brain! Handsome Man and I either discovered or developed a shared love of trivia during our time on a pub trivia team in Portland.

Anyway, one of the episodes of Good Job, Brain! was about music. The link is here. At one point the podcast brought up the Chicago World's Fair and a song with no copyright referred to as, "The Snake Charmer's Song." This is where I discovered something odd. I think I even paused the podcast to exclaim about it to Handsome Man. The podcast gave the song lyrics wholly unfamiliar to me. Handsome Man's memory of the song was in accordance with the podcast's. He began to sing, "There's a place in France, where the naked ladies dance..."

"Wait!" I exclaimed. "That's not at all like the version I know!"

"I wonder if it's regional," I mused, "like playgrounds in different parts of the country have different words for that song. Or if Sparta Alpine School just had its own version. It was about Mars, not France!"

"Mars?" he asked.

I began to sing the following:

On the planet Mars
Where the ladies smoke cigars
Where the men wear bikinis and the children drink martinis

When the snake is dead
They put roses in its head--

Here, Handsome Man interjected, "This doesn't make any sense!"

"I know!" I replied, before continuing:

When the roses die
They put diamonds in its eyes
When the diamonds break

IT'S 1988!

I faltered a little before that last line, as it suddenly occurred to me that out of that whole nonsense song, this last line was the most nonsensical of them all. What does 1988 have to do with anything? We didn't even start singing this song until 1992! Was this a mishearing on the part of someone? Am I misremembering? Did anyone outside of Sparta Alpine School in Sparta, New Jersey, sing a version of The Snake Charmer's Song remotely like this one?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Foreword to "It's 1988!"

Every morning I would wake at dawn. The coffeemaker had been set up with a timer the night before, so that coffee would be waiting for me as I sat down to a breakfast of a hard-boiled egg and a whole grain muffin, a new batch made once a week, different recipes as I worked my way through the muffin and then the quick bread (adapted to muffin) section of The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. If I'd forgotten to do so the night before, I'd have to charge my phone, and the breakfast would then become a little more leisurely, but the time would be spent productively reading and writing. I would drink a pint glass of water before changing into my running clothes and leaving.

While running, I listened to news podcasts (downloaded during breakfast) in German or French to help my language skills. I remember thinking this gave my morning routine the appearance of sickening virtue--exercising and learning a foreign language at the same time. Actually many of the mornings I would listen to How Was Your Week? instead, and always when the foreign language news podcast ended I would switch to something fun and in English. Spilled Milk appeared regularly in the rotation, although on a run or long walk this just made me ravenously hungry. Maybe it pushed me to go a little faster toward home, toward the refrigerator.

I wrote often. I wrote drafts I planned to edit and post. But as tends to happen when I become too set in a routine, when I figure out how to get organized in the space and time that I have, sudden upheaval overturns my carefully manufactured systems. Learning how to adapt, to function efficiently and effectively without my systems, is a constant process.

I have written extensively on this blog about the carefully constructed system of grocery shopping and cleaning tasks assigned to specific days and spreadsheets telling me what to buy where, which governed my last year in New Jersey before suddenly, that system didn't work anymore, as I prepared to move to Oregon. I did not write (but the late fall of 2011 when I wrote very often and suddenly around the new year of 2012 quit writing--that's when this happened) about the car break-in of Christmas 2011, in which a suitcase containing nearly all of my work clothes was stolen. While not exactly a schedule or system, I had selected wardrobe pieces to match and coordinate and construct many work-appropriate outfits from a few pieces, to maximize what I had without buying too much. Do you see a common thread within these two systems? Saving money. I treated myself as though one misstep, one foolish purchase of socks or the wrong brand of flour, was almost a moral error. Like it was irresponsible and careless, as though the decrease of money I was able to put into my savings account that month was an actual numerical measurement of my own virtue. Not my value as a human being, but my ability to make wise, responsible decisions.

When these upheavals of my carefully-designed organizational systems occurred, when forces beyond my control upset them, I always told myself, "See? This is a lesson. You can't control everything!" A large withdrawal from my savings account to replace my stolen wardrobe did not equal a withdrawal from my moral worth; I needed to wear clothes to work, and it wasn't my fault that someone broke into Handsome Man's car. Furthermore, the construction of these systems presumes an ability to control everything. I always say that my systems help me function better in the case that everything doesn't go according to plan, so that instead of chaos, I have something slightly less organized than my system but organized nonetheless. Yet in fact these systems sometimes prove to not be adaptable enough; they don't survive big changes (what I call an "upheaval"), and they don't transition well into a system that does work in an unstable period.

A new personal goal is to adjust this, to establish systems tat are adaptable and flexible. I may have, in the past several months, come up with a good system for living out of suitcases.

It wasn't just my clothes that got me worrying and kept me from writing at the turn of 2012. It was that I was thinking of leaving my graduate program. The idea of law school kept appearing, but at that time, I saw more risks than benefits into which I could put faith. I wrote on paper then, too, but none of it appeared here.

This is not the post I planned to write this morning. I planned to write something inane, something that might frustrate readers who observed a long absence of writing followed by my reappearance newly married and living in Georgia, not Oregon. I planned to dodge any serious issues completely, not to answer the question, "What happened?"

What I planned to write was simply the following: that I had a too-carefully-planned routine in place, of eating the same breakfast every day, drinking two glasses of water, going for a run and long walk while listening to foreign language news, followed by another two glasses of water and arm exercises with weights while listening to or watching something on a "to do" list; that this was interrupted by a need to go back to New Jersey on a one-way ticket; that I told Handsome Man that I would be gone probably a week, maybe two (prompting him to exclaim, "TWO weeks!?"), but I returned to Portland only to move; that some sad things happened in the first third of 2013, and that is all I will say for now; that Handsome Man and I are married now; and that Handsome Man and I now live outside of Atlanta, Georgia, in a very tiny, very cute house with a huge yard.

After this, I planned to write a little about our new location, our new home (with pictures), some non-serious things floating around my head (I'm trying to think of ways to adapt salad rolls to cuisines other than Vietnamese, so they will appeal to a wider array of palates aka my parents), and a silly memory conjured by a podcast listened to on the drive from New Jersey to Georgia. However, this post has become lengthy already, and I have postponed going running (attempting to establish routine yet again) long enough for this morning. A post inspired by the podcast Good Job, Brain! will be up later this week. To any of my former readers who have stuck around after a many month absence, thank you for reading!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Embarrassment of ramps

Yesterday, I went hiking with my friend "Susie" (not real name) in one of my favorite places in the entire world. The temperatures have been wintry, especially in the morning, but signs of spring are out--specifically flowers. Some are flowers I have not seen since 2009, before I moved to Oregon, so it was all pretty exciting for me. More exciting than the facts warranted; how exciting is it really to see some Sanguinaria in the woods? It's not like it was twinleaf! (Jeffersonia diphylla, which is so rare in its native territory that it is often not labeled at botanical gardens, so as to not attract the attention of poachers. Yet in the Northwest, it grows tall and healthy and well-labeled in botanical gardens.)

We saw anemone...

and Hepatica (and for those of you who would complain about my use of Latin names, let me tell you what its common name is--liverwort. Is that prettier? No!)....

and columbine, just getting ready to bloom.

We both stopped at a patch of broad, flat monocot leaves, both of us silently calculating, trying to decipher what this plant was. Both of us at some point thought, "Solomon's seal? No...." I remember thinking, "Maybe that other one that's like Solomon's seal but isn't....what's it called?" (Later I realized I was thinking of false Solomon's seal.)

Suddenly, "Susie" exclaimed, "It's ramps!" She broke off a small piece of one and chewed on it. The air filled with an alliaceous smell, confirming this.

I don't know which of us first said, "But we shouldn't pick's not allowed." But we both kept saying it, only to find later, we both were thinking it would be okay and really not destroy the forest to pick a few, maybe ten, just enough to fill a skillet. But we both thought the other wouldn't break the rules of the park (which does actually have NO PICK rules), she because I am going to law school, I because she is a PhD scientist.

Especially as we continued to hike, and saw more and more ramps.

Yes, some of those pictures are of entire hillsides covered with ramps. Covered!

If you are thinking, "What the hell are ramps, and why is she so excited about them?", they are wild onion-like vegetables (technically, I've heard, wild leeks) which have a short season of availability, are available only at a few farmers' markets and grocery stores (such as Wegman's), and cost roughly a billion dollars. (Actually more like $32.99/lb, or so it was four years ago when I actually lived here full-time, but it may have changed since then. Also, it's worth noting that you don't need to buy anything close to a pound to have enough for a few meals. So it's really not going to set you back that much. I used to spend maybe $6 on ramps per grocery store trip, and I'd still have enough that I needed to make and freeze pesto.) They are delicious and worth every penny.

I tried to locate the ramp pesto recipe I used in 2009, but I can't. All I remember is that it was (as stated earlier) like any other pesto recipe, with no greens besides ramps, possibly some added garlic, and the nuts were not pine nuts, not walnuts, but pecans. This is worth noting; pecans are the perfect complement to ramps, in my opinion. Should you acquire ramps for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by the panoply of complex Internet recipes featuring ramps. Such as halibut with ramp pesto, preserved lemon, and oyster mushrooms. NO. Don't make yourself crazy. The best way to eat ramps is a simple preparation that highlights and does not mask the ramps themselves. My favorite way to eat ramps is to simply clean them (wash off dirt, chop off the very bottom with roots, remove any leaves that look very obviously wilted or dirty), sautee them in a hot skillet with butter, and add some salt and pepper and chopped pecans either toasted or cooked in the same hot butter remaining in the pan after you've removed the ramps. Add a poached egg and a baguette for a complete meal. Another preparation common in my former NJ apartments was ramp pizza - white pizza made with Trader Joe's pizza dough and ricotta and the Holy Trinity of Cheeses (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano). Add blanched fiddleheads for the ultimate snooty spring seasonal meal (and no one needs to know the dough is not homemade, but Trader Joe's.) I can't find the ramp pesto recipe, but it was basically like any pesto recipe, with pecans, olive oil, ramps and no other green, maybe garlic, and no cheese if you are going to freeze it. Honestly, it doesn't need cheese. This I would just eat with crackers. Another good resource is here, and it is from 2009, so I must have used it then, but I do not recall trying any of the recipes for things like risotto.

Here are some more pictures from our hike yesterday.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What's going on in Jersey

Spring is slower to arrive here than in Portland, but it's finally here.

I have been writing, but neither editing nor posting, for the past three weeks that I have been in New Jersey. The immediate things happening are not what I want to write about on this blog, as they are not that uplifting. They are either depressing or they are wedding planning, which often veers toward aggravating. I'm drafting something about the latter, and hope to post it later this week.

I left a sunny Portland spring, which arrived almost too early for my liking, temperatures reaching the low sixties before the calendar reached March. I landed in New Jersey's persistent, persevering end of winter. It was my first return to my home state since Sandy. I returned to bare trees, cold temperatures, and signs of the storm's wreckage, such as broken fences, toppled billboards still lying next to the road, and the absence of trees where my memory insisted they should be.

This absence of trees allows the sun to visit the backyard, where a garden might be able to soon thrive. The mornings are still cold, but spring's warmth, sun, and flowers are here. In Portland, spring suddenly arrives as early as late February, flowers appearing on the trees and ground with speed that is thrilling yet almost exhausting. And flowers were never really absent from that landscape; the winter rarely reached freezing, the grass never turned dry brown, and cold-weather perennials such as hellebore bloomed constantly. Here, I have to wait. Here, I have time to study the subtle red flowers of maple trees and the succession of spring ephemerals. Whereas violets have had a long season of bloom in Portland, in my parents' backyard, they will not appear until May, after the blue Siberian squills, which only bloom in April, have finished and faded to return next year, nearly always in time for my birthday.

I finished reading Daniel Deronda. I finished several knitting projects and started a few more. I have taken advantage of the availability of Northeast microbrewery beers.

More later!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What's going on!?

I have redone my blog!
Over time, I have timidly brought up my desire to change the blog's name from Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Oregon to...something. I didn't know what. The obvious, simple answer was here all along--Botanylicious. You know, to match the URL of this blog. The old title was problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm leaving Oregon soon. Then what? Will it be Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Virginia/New York (The State Not the City)/New York (THE BIG CITY OMG!!!)/Chicago/North Carolina/Our Nation's Capital!/Georgia/etc? To potentially change again in three years? No. That's just too complicated. Second, as I've mentioned before, I really didn't like the use of "haired" as an adjective, not in a blog title. But no one else seemed to mind, or they just didn't respond when I brought this up, so perhaps it made them even more uncomfortable than it made me.
HM, bless his heart, made the last masthead, approximately 33% of which featured a dreamy double exposure of my face floating above Crater Lake. I can only assume his love for me influenced his design (which was beloved by everyone, including the person whose face it prominently featured, but moreso by everyone else, as I was also uncomfortable with my face floating above the blog.) Anyway, I asked him to assist in the redesign of the blog, requesting a new masthead indicating the new title of "Botanylicious" meeting the following specifications: 1) My face, if at all present, would take up no more than 5% of the total volume of the masthead and 2) Simple and tasteful OR kitten unicorns.
I'm glad he chose kitten unicorns.
What else is going on!? I lost my job about a month ago. This is why I ought to have lots of time to write, and I do, but as I wrote previously, I've been writing more than I've been editing. I don't think you want to see (well, whatever you want, I don't want you to see) my unedited scraps of notes taken after morning walks such as, "pregnant lady with coffee cup" or "headboard garden." Other stories, even when fully written, need careful editing as they tread on that line between, "funny complaining" and "irritable curmudgeonly ramble." So, I'm waiting until I'm in the right mood to tell you about the damn kids and bicycles on the sidewalk and the elementary school class that was inexplicably being conducted on the road. Not sidewalk--road.
That's when I decided to try to go for my run before 9:00 am.
Now is a good time for some of the latest photos from my morning ruh-walks. According to my running/walking tracking app, this week brought, in addition to the following pictures, a bunch of personal new records in things like, "number of workouts," "average running pace," and "miles walked per week."
Above, rainbow seen from my office window shortly before my walk, during which I got caught in a hailstorm.

Last Sunday, the 17th, I came back from my walk in time to see Mariposa, the neighborhood cat, approaching. As I stopped to pet her in the driveway, one of my neighbors, a person who has lived across the street from me for more than two years, asked me a perplexing question--if I was going to bring the kids out to see the parade. I was so startled, I couldn't even manage politeness.

"Huh!?" was my response.

We were both saved by her husband, who announced, "The parade is coming by in twenty minutes! Go tell everyone in the house!"

"Okay," I said, realizing they were referring to the yearly bizarre neighborhood St. Patrick's Day parade. If you have been reading this blog since then, you may recall my post about the parade two years ago. The post is titled, "What's happening," which makes me wonder if around this time every year I fall into a strange slump. The post from around this time one year ago also mentions the parade (but with no pictures), and how it had been nearly a year since HM and I took our strange trip to the Oregon desert...which I was just talking about, at length, the other day. Hmm.

Anyway, the parade this time resembled an actual parade more than the group of neighbors, only some of them wearing green, walking their dogs at the same time.

Sadly, this year's parade did not include a Pepsi truck.

I still haven't figured out which "kids" my neighbor thinks I have to bring to a parade. Perhaps she thought I was someone else. There are no kids in my apartment building. I believe the youngest tenants are twenty-three.

I finished knitting the Selfish Sugarcane Shell sweater. I do not recommend sugarcane yarn for fitted garments. Extra seams made this sweater look non-ridiculous, but if I were to do it again, I would knit the thing two sizes small. I have a feeling the sweater is going to keep stretching every time I wear it.

I have been stress baking. Pictured are the multigrain carrot date muffins from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook by Sara Forte, the banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life, a cloth napkin that I recently made, and finally! Julie Klausner's book.

I made a sweet potato and leek quiche. Regular quiche, not a vegan one this kind. (And I just realized I may not yet have written about the three different kinds of vegan quiche I tried, systematically like to-do list items, since being laid off. Whoops!) What was remarkable-ish about this one is that the crust was made with breadcrumbs in addition to almond meal. I threw together about a cup of each with an unmeasured (eyeballed) amount of olive oil. It the easiest pie crust I've ever made, and it was pretty good! I may be done with regular pie crust, as almond meal crust is so easy to make well. I highly recommend saving breadcrumbs from the cutting board in a jar in the freezer and then using them to help bind almond meal-based pie crust.

HM and I made classic sole meunière (recipe here; thank you again, Molly Wizenberg!), but the pictures of that are not very pretty. The sole cost less than $6.00 at the farmers' market, and the recipe came together quickly and easily. I want to make it once a week! We also made, together, another bread recipe from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Have I mentioned these recipes before? I took a break from sourdough to go back to the beginning and relearn how to make bread. You know, how to really make bread. (I don't even know what I mean, exactly.) These recipes...I almost wish I never discovered them. I almost wish the bread wasn't so good. Because it takes quite a bit of kneading. While the other recipes I regularly use make perfectly delicious bread, the five-minute knead and the no-knead recipes, nothing makes sandwich bread like the recipes of The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. You can butter that bread with ice cold butter and it will not tear. It slices easily too--the entire loaf. No weird ends unfit for sandwiches, good only for sopping up soups or dips. All this without the use of any white flour. But it takes 300 "strokes" of kneading per loaf, and this currently takes me well over twenty minutes.

There must be a happy medium between this bread and bread that is tasty but not good for sandwiches. When do I really need to spread ice cold butter on a piece of untoasted bread? Never! But I was looking for white-flour-free sandwich bread. The search continues (and may be found as I continue to work from this book.)

I tried to make one loaf as a "steamed hearth bread," a boule made in a Dutch oven, but I missed the part about greasing the Dutch oven. Oops! And now you know the source of the bread crumbs for the crust of the above-picture quiche.

That's about it! That's what's going on! A lot of domesticity and morning running/walking. No romantic road trips planned, nothing like the one I took two years ago at this time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring is here (The Blog Post Title Curmudgeon)

An uninspired title, I admit.

An overdue post I've been drafting is about the circumstances that have led me to, theoretically, have more time to write. I have so far not made enough time to edit, which is why nothing has been posted since February 11th.

One thing for which I have made time is running and long walks. Now that it is light out--not only light out, but sunny!--when I go for a morning run, I can't help but stop to take pictures. I am contented to see that I am not the only one. Today I ran past a woman who was, the entire time she was visible to me, as still as a statue, clad in running clothes, the sole sign that reassured me that she was not taken ill her smartphone positioned close to the inside of hellebore, setting up the perfect shot.

It contents me to know that I am not the only one, and therefore probably do not attract attention when I abruptly stop running to stand for up to ten minutes, attempting to get the perfect shot of fallen camellia blossoms or cherry blossoms fallen on cactus pads.

I don't know how to make these pictures bigger. Picasa has changed, and I don't know how to use it the way I used to, if that's even possible. I don't want to say I don't like it, because maybe I just haven't learned how to use it yet...but to be honest, I currently do not like it.

Post currently in draft format, edited version to come later, about how I may be a curmudgeon. The post is about being a Sidewalk Curmudgeon, but I may also be a Picasa Curmudgeon. Oh, heck. I'm a Technology Curmudgeon. Even though I work in IT, I still don't embrace all technology quickly. I still complain about DVDs not doing certain things the way VHS did, and I recently learned, from one of the LSAT prep videos, that DVDs were released in 1995. So I have been complaining, since before I was a teenager, about this thing that has been around for nearly twenty years. (The thing is not being able to stop the video and then start it again, in the exact same place, but rather having to find the scene and re-watch parts of it or fast-forward.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thoughts for February 11th

I recently wrote about Ursula K. Le Guin, one of my early (and current) literary inspirations. Today I am, like many other writers, discussing another--Sylvia Plath. When I was in high school and first discovering literature and especially poetry, and beginning to write it myself, I was a HUGE fan of Sylvia Plath. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge. I read many individual poems by many individual poets, but I committed to specifically seeking out the work of very few other poets. Aside from books I had to buy for college courses, the volumes of poetry that I own consist of a few collections, mostly gifts; a handful of Margaret Atwood; one Arthur Rimbaud; some e e cummings; and nearly every book ever written by Sylvia Plath, including her unabridged journals. I often, especially when considering my own journals, wonder if the publication of hers is an invasion, and so I have actually read no farther than the first few pages of that book. I become overwhelmed either by the book's size or by my own guilt.

I wrote my first big research paper in high school Honors English about Sylvia Plath, which is one reason I am equipped with so much knowledge of her biography and legacy. It wasn't a morbid obsession; it was a research project.

To discuss Sylvia Plath is typically to discuss her less as a writer and more as a depressed women who ended her own life at the age of 30. This does Sylvia Plath the writer a disservice.

I myself am guilty, I realized today.

I recall that the teacher who assigned the aforementioned research paper treated my admiration of Ms. Plath as the stereotypical fascination of a maudlin, weird teenage girl, like so many before her, with a melodramatic, openly depressed female writer and her tragic tale. Many adults were similarly dismissive, but none so bluntly as that specific teacher. I recall that researching the paper, I mostly encountered harsh criticism of Plath's work, mostly disgusted with its "confessional" style, as though the emotional honesty of "confession" was unarguably distinct from intellect, art, and skill, characteristic of the hysterical woman, she who is not to be taken seriously. I recall thinking that my teacher's dismissive attitude toward my chosen topic was similar to the dismissive analysis of Plath's critics.

However, I realize today that I have been equally guilty, equally dismissive of my own past love of Plath's work. I smudged my own memories into a blurred untruth, and I dismissed my former fascination as being rooted not in a recognition of Plath's genius, but of my own maudlin teenage imagination that I might identify with her "confession." In truth, it was not this that I admired, but her talent for constructing poetic imagery.

Then I read the opening lines of, "Elm," and I remembered. I remember that I learned the meaning of "tap root" only because "Elm" prompted me to look it up in the dictionary, and that discussions of "tap roots" in my later botanical study could not be divorced from that early poetic understanding of their meaning.

Rather than share "Elm" with you, I will share a few lines from "Cut," because I remember how much it appalled one of Plath's critics, and how I felt that even I, a sixteen-year-old high school student, understood the poem better than the professional critic.

The poem, "Cut," is centered around the image of a simple cut thumb, the way one might cut the end of their thumb while chopping vegetables for dinner. Such a small, prosaic incident is drawn out, each aspect of its image described. The following two lines are the example I would like to highlight: "The stain on your/Gauze Ku Klux Klan/Babushka". Now, I recall that the literary critic, whose name I unfortunately do not remember, pretty much lost his shit at this point in the poem. KKK!? he opined. It was bad enough that Plath so frequently used the Holocaust in her work, but to now drag in the KKK! a whole body of injustice to which she, a white woman, could claim no personal experience!? How inappropriate! How tasteless!

I, as a sixteen-year-old, thought, "What is he talking about? This is a very simple image." Picture a bandage on your thumb, meant to cover its top joint. What does it often form? A triangular hat for your thumb. Like a KKK hat. Like a headscarf ("Babushka.") Perhaps Plath did draw on images of injustice, but on its face, these lines are simply descriptive, and the critic failed to see this at all, skipping past the image to an analysis with which he took offense. It's just a triangular hat-like bandage on the edge of one's thumb. A perfect, well-crafted image.

The following pages inspired this post:

From BUST: On the 50th Anniversary of Sylvia Plath's Dead, Female Writers Reflect on her Life, Work, and Legacy
From The Guardian: Sylvia Plath: reflections on her legacy This should come with a big SPOILER ALERT! if you haven't read The Bell Jar. So here you go - SPOILER ALERT! You can read the first (Lena Dunham's) without anything being ruined for you. Jeannette Winterson's is okay, too. And Ruth Fainlight's, as I now know to whom "Elm," was dedicated.
Don't Judge The Bell Jar by its Cover (Which I did not finish reading)
Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar as you've never seen it--gallery My favorite is the parody cover of Madame Bovary. Or the bell and the jar.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Further adventures with sourdough and sweaters

I gave up on sourdough and bought frozen pizza instead. Picture taken below at Grocery Outlet, care taken to display HM's enthusiasm while maintaining his anonymity.

I'm just kidding! I made Cathy Erway's Spent Grain Sourdough from Not Eating Out in New York. The recipe, as far as I can tell, does not say when to add the salt, and so I forgot to add the salt. The result was a reminder of what salt does in a bread recipe. Well, okay, I actually don't know, but it has something to do with science and helps the bread rise. Bread dough that is supposed to have salt, without salt, yields flat bread.

Here it is before the second rise.

I believe the purpose of that photo was that I planned to write something about, "Kitchen Day," an entire day devoted to tackling ambitious kitchen projects all at once and then not worrying about them for an entire week, and the mess that results yet is cleaned up while everything is in the oven.

Still flat, before going in the oven. I hoped for some oven rise.

It looks exactly the same, except that it's on a cooling rack.

The bread was very dense and neither of the residents of this house considered it a favorite. HM kept pointing out that, "it doesn't taste like sourdough," which again makes me wonder if my starter isn't ideal. But all of the starters involving milk sitting at room temperature for days or juice weird me out a little bit.

Before I write off this recipe, however, I am going to try it again with salt.

As for sweaters, I'm almost finished with the back of the Selfish Sugarcane Shell. I had to start a second skein of yarn and was concerned until I realized I had actually purchased three skeins of Araucania Ruca Multy, not two. It looks like the shell won't be finished by the end of Selfish Knitting Month, and I did not start any other selfish projects. I haven't decided yet if I'll keep working on the shell exclusively in February, or if I'll start another selfish/de-stashing project in addition to gifts that must be completed by a deadline. Gift recipients include babies and some friends to whom I have promised ribbon embroidery for the last two years.

Some bloggers would end a semi-dull project possible-no-one-but-me-cares-about-this post with a question for the readers, such as, "Is anyone else doing Selfish Knitting Month? What are your adventurous projects for 2013?", but this feels very inorganic to me. It's not that I don't care; I do! but this just doesn't seem like the kind of blog to end many posts with questions.